Welcome to the 11th edition of this NYC election-focused newsletter, and rejoice at the good news: the primary election is officially underway, and you can look here to find your early voting poll site before election day on June 22. I’m independent journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and today we’re continuing the proud journalistic tradition of standing just far away enough from poll site doors to keep wary elections officials at bay as we try to gauge the mood and talk to some voters.
Outside the voting location in the Columbia University Medical Center at 1150 St. Nicholas Ave. in Washington Heights, Juan Abreu displayed limitless energy as he bounded around handing out flyers on behalf of City Council district 7 candidate Shaun Abreu, who he described as a tenants’ rights lawyer and graduate of Columbia University — “on a full ride!” as Juan cheerfully attested. Shaun also happens to be Juan’s son, and the proud 61-year-old dad hardly let anyone step foot on the block without hearing the younger Abreu’s name and accomplishments.
Shaun won at least one of the early voters, as 48-year-old teaching artist and community resident Bobby De Jesús told me he’d ranked the tenant lawyer first in his bracket of Council candidates. De Jesús said he was excited about the arrival of ranked-choice voting, as it allowed him to better represent his choices. “It’s always really sucked to have your candidate not be in it anymore, and not have a chance and then have to settle for the candidate that’s the lesser of the evils,” he said. “If you have any kind of influence on who that second choice might be, if you don’t get your first choice, I think that’s really important.” Given that he’s “a big AOC guy,” referring to popular Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he ranked AOC-endorsed Maya Wiley first in the mayoral primary, and Dianne Morales second.
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The ranked-choice voting system is new, and while the early voters we spoke with generally thought it favorably, some expressed concern that it might confuse voters and lengthen the voting lines on election day itself. “If everybody waits for the last minute, it’s gonna be a long day,” said Clarence Williams, 73, as he was leaving the polling site in the Betances Community Center at 547 E 146th St. in the South Bronx. He lives in a building just across the street, and remembers looking out the window and seeing big lines on prior elections. “It took me a while to get hip to what’s going on, I can just imagine that on election day.”
Still, he agrees that the new system is a positive development and believes that “it allows you to choose your better choice,” even if initially it may “turn some people off.” The message that it’s worth actually using the system to the fullest extent seems to be getting out, with voter Oscar Paulino telling me outside the Washington Heights polling place that he had filled in all five slots for every race he could (the Manhattan DA race is a traditional one-candidate election). “I used the whole of the ballot,” he said proudly, adding that he thought it was a more modern and process suited for an interconnected world where we can learn much more about each candidate.
Norma Polanco, a retiree, told me outside the South Bronx polling place that she thought the new system was “excellent in my view, very good,” and noted that she had also made it a point to include all five possible rankings for the positions which allow it, though she declined to share her choices. She believes that the system should be kept for further elections and she felt she’d been well-informed about how it worked from having heard about it on Univisión.
Things were pretty slow at the polling locations in Washington Heights and the South Bronx, with only a handful of people voting at each over the several hours that I observed them. This appears to be in keeping with a slow start to early voting this election season, with the Board of Elections reporting a turnout of far under one percent of registered voters over the weekend, when early voting began. This is probably due to the fact that, like the ranked choice voting system itself, early voting is new for a city mayoral election. Many voters might not be used to it, and assume that they should be lining up to vote on primary day, as they have before.
As some of our early voters pointed out, this could present a problem if voters are having to largely familiarize themselves with the new system and multiplying the time they spend filling in their ballots while turning out in larger numbers all on one day. So, we’d like to encourage those of you who are indeed planning on casting ballots this election season to do so by June 20, when early voting ends.
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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.