Ranked-Choice Voting Gets A Prime-Time Shot Under New York City's Bright Lights
Updated June 23, 2021 at 4:05 PM ET
An important election takes place Tuesday in New York City.
But beyond who wins the mayoral primaries there, what happens could have consequences for how millions of Americans vote in the future.
That's because the city is using ranked-choice voting for the first time in decades. The method, which allows voters to rank candidates by preference rather than selecting just their top choice, has gained some traction throughout the country, pushed by reformers who say it's a better election system.
New York City is by far the largest jurisdiction to implement ranked-choice voting, and that means it's about to go under a white-hot spotlight.
So what is it exactly, where has it been used, and what are the arguments for and against it?
What is ranked-choice voting?
In the system, voters get to rank their preferred candidates. New York City is having voters rank their top five — though voters are not required to choose five.
In the Democratic primary, there are 13 candidates on the ballot, while the Republican primary in the heavily Democratic city has just two candidates. New York now uses ranked-choice voting for primaries and special elections after almost three-quarters of voters approved its use in a 2019 ballot measure.
Most Americans are used to casting one vote for one person per office, and the person with the most votes wins. Ranking candidates is far more complicated, but advocates believe it is fairer and more accurately reflects the collective will of the majority.
Here's an example of a Democratic ballot that a New Yorker in Flushing, Queens (where your author is from), will see:
How does it work?
In the New York Democratic mayoral primary, with such a large field of candidates and a high percentage of undecided voters, it could take many rounds before someone reaches a majority.
Using its data, the latest WNBC/Telemundo 47/Politico/Marist poll of the race, for example, found it would take 12 rounds to get a winner.
Where else has this been used?
There are some 20 jurisdictions across the country that use ranked-choice voting, according to FairVote, a nonpartisan vote-reform advocacy group.
Just two states — Maine and Alaska — have switched to it for both statewide and presidential elections, while a few more used it for 2020 presidential primaries.
It had a serious impact on a 2018 Maine congressional race. A Republican had the most first-choice votes and was leading the Democrat narrowly by a couple thousand votes. But two independent candidates also received a fair amount of votes, and when their second-choice votes were redistributed, the Democrat wound up winning by a few thousand.
Popular overseas. It has also been used by Australia, Ireland and Malta since the early 20th century. Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Scotland have all adopted it as well.
Not the first push in the U.S. Two dozen cities adopted ranked-choice voting in this country in the early-to-mid-20th century, but it faced a backlash and was repealed in all of them but one. It is still in use in Cambridge, Mass.
Outside politics. The Oscars have also been using it since 2009 for its Best Picture category, but not everyone is a fan of the results it has produced.
What are the arguments in favor of it?
Proponents of ranked-choice voting say:
What are the arguments against it?
Opponents of ranked-choice voting say:
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