It’s finally time: early voting begins this weekend, and the primary itself is in just under two weeks (June 22, can’t say that enough, mark your calendars)! Welcome to the 10th NYC election-focused newsletter. I’m independent journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and we’re doing something a bit different in this edition — we’re hoping to give you a little more of a primer on how to navigate ranked-choice voting for the primaries.
There have been a lot of good guides on what ranked-choice voting means and how it works, with our friends at Epicenter publishing one this week, and I encourage you to check it out for more detail. Basically, the first-choice selections are counted and, if no candidate has won 50 percent plus one vote of that count, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated and those votes are distributed to whoever these voters put down as their second-choice candidate, with this process repeating until there are two candidates left, at which point the one with most votes is the winner.
This is all well and good, and no doubt an interesting development in municipal voting, but it still seems like many voters are wondering: why do I want this? How is this supposed to help us achieve a fairer election, and how can I use it strategically? Because, at the end of the day, the purpose behind RCV is to represent voters’ preferences even better than direct single-choice voting does. So how do you decide how to rank in a calculated manner for the best outcome for you as a voter?
Many guides explain that you don’t have to rank the full five candidates, and can simply fill in your top two or even just your #1 pick, as if you were voting in a non-ranked-choice election. While that’s certainly an option, in crowded City Council races — a number of open seats have 10, 15, 20 registered Democratic primary candidates apiece — where the victors will be decided by razor-thin margins, voting strategically can ensure not only that your first or second choice candidate wins, but might prevent your least favorite candidates from doing so.
For more guidance and resources, see here:
Can we answer any specific questions about the process as we go into voting? We’d love to hear from you! Reach us at NYCelections@url-media.com
Let’s look at a simple hypothetical: there’s a ranked choice race with candidates A, B, C, D, and E. In this hypothetical, there are 1,000 voters with various preferences; 500 of these voters have different first choices, but all collectively don’t want candidate B to win. For another 300 voters, B is their first choice, and the remaining 200 have different first choices but B as their second choice.
Of the first group, 200 voters rank A as first and 300 rank D as first but don’t include a second choice. The second group all rank B first and various other candidates second. Of the third group, 15 pick A first, 90 pick C first, 25 pick D first, 70 pick E first, and all pick B second. The first count would then look as follows:
Since there are 1,000 voters, a candidate would have to get 501 first-choice votes to win outright, and clearly no one does here, so the candidate with the lowest first-choice votes, E, is eliminated, and those votes go to the second choice; in this case, they’re all for B. So the second count would look like this:
This would repeat with the additional two eliminations — 90 from C, and the 15 from A which had a second choice — to leave B with 475 overall to D’s 325, making B the winner. Essentially, despite D both having initially had more first-choice votes than B and B being the least favorite choice of a full half of the voters, the dynamics in this hypothetical race leave it as the winner. Now, if only the 200 voters who ranked A first and did not include a second choice had instead made D their second choice, D would end up winning easily with 525 votes.
That’s why it’s important that you actually fill in your rankings, and not treat these primaries the same as previous elections where you picked your one preferred candidate. This is a very simple hypothetical that doesn’t have to deal with third, fourth, and fifth-choice rankings over multiple rounds, but it’s meant to illustrate that who you put after your first-choice ranking can make a huge impact on the outcome of the race, and should not be ignored.
Council races, especially those overflowing with candidates that are all at least minimally viable, will hinge on very small vote differences, so your decisions on how to rank all five candidates is actually very important, and you should take it as seriously as deciding how to rank the first. There’s a flip side to this coin, which is that this system allows you to more “safely” pick your first choice candidate even if you don’t feel sure that the candidate would get the majority of the votes in the first round.
We’re used to thinking about voting as not only picking the candidate we want but the candidate that’s safe, someone we could live with and has the best chance of winning. This is so common in our elections systems that we even have terminology for it — voting while “holding your nose” and so on. With a ranked choice election, you should feel more comfortable putting your first choice first even if you’re not sure the candidate has a path to winning. If you’re right and the candidate loses, your vote won’t be “wasted,” it’ll simply go to your next-ranked candidate. If it turns out that your candidate was stronger than you imagined (and remember, your candidate might not be other voters’ first choice but he or she could well be second and third), you can actually help take your candidate to victory.
Ranked-choice has been implemented in a number of localities around the country, but New York City is by far the largest U.S. voting population yet to adopt the system, making us part of something like a grand experiment for how this can work. Other cities, states, and even Congress will be looking to see how it goes, so let’s make it a success and fill out all of those rankings, folks!
What we’re reading:
How the NYC Mayoral Candidates’ Housing Platforms Stack Up
The Haitian Times
Courting justice: How NYC judicial races can impact Haitians
This newsletter was written by Felipe De La Hoz for URL Media, a network of Black and Brown news and information outlets. Our collaborative elections coverage is sponsored by a grant from the Center for Cooperative Media.