NYC Primary Elections Special Coverage
By Parveen Chopra
Fellow, CCM NYC Elections Reporting
New York: Starting this year, New York City has adopted Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in primary and special elections for local offices including Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council. The radical new system’s first citywide use will be the Primary Election on June 22, 2021.
As with all new things, introduction of RCV needs wider dissemination and explaining. To that end, the NYC Board of Elections has been running ads and the Campaign Finance Board began an education campaign including free virtual training sessions with organizations wanting to help get the word out to voters.
To understand key points and RCV’s benefits, we also spoke to a couple of South Asian candidates in this election cycle.
RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates who best represent their constituents.
The winner must have a majority (more than 50%) of the votes rather than a plurality (the most votes).
On election night, in races where voters select one winner, if a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins, just like in any other election. However, if there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an “instant runoff” without the voters needing to go to the polling booth again. This process continues until there’s a majority winner.
Harpreet Singh Toor, community activist and NYC Council District 23 candidate, told The South Asian Times that “the system of Ranked Choice voting is too new for most voters to fully understand. They don’t yet know enough about how it works, and why it was created to feel completely comfortable.”
When asked how it will impact South Asian candidates like him, he said, “Candidates are still assessing its impact on campaigning and potential election outcomes, as well as the best ways to inform the electorate about the process. So it is too soon to determine how RCV will impact South Asian candidates.”
Toor also ran in a 2010 Special Election for the Council, and argues that “those earlier attempts introduced the concept of South Asian candidates to the general electorate, laying a foundation for the current level of political involvement, and aspiration for elected office within our community”. This time he is one of
three turbaned Sikh candidates and one of more than a dozen South Asians running for NYC Council.
Dr. Neeta Jain, who ran in a Special Election for District 24 earlier this year, told The South Asian Times that she favors Ranked Choice Voting. “It’s important that we have an electoral system that enfranchises the most people and empowers communities, especially those of color, to elect their candidate of choice.” Evidence? Cities that have implemented RCV have elected more women and more women of color, making their elected officials more representative of their communities, reports Fair Vote.
There are two South Asians in NYS Senate and two in NYS Assembly as well, but why none so far in NYC Council? Replies Dr Jain, a psychologist who has been serving as Democratic District Leader, Assembly District 25, Part B, Queens, Council. “We have tried twice in NYC Council – once in CD 23 and now in CD
24 Special Election. Each time, we were unsuccessful because we keep dividing our votes among ourselves”. She was referencing the half a dozen South Asian candidates in both these elections. Indeed, among Toor’s 6 opponents this time, 3 are South Asians. Dr Jain’s Rx: “If we work together and use RCV, there is a possibility of having our representation in NYC Council.”
Mr Toor adds that there is no organization or group tracking or supporting South Asian candidates. “There is a Pakistani American PAC, but it is not supporting a candidate at this time.”
Incidentally, while 17 US cities including San Francisco and Minneapolis used RCV before, the system received better attention when it was employed for the first time in a federal election in the State of Maine last November. Ranked Choice was projected to favor Indian origin Democratic candidate Sara Gideon. But Republican incumbent Susan Collins received 51% vote as the first choice, blowing out Gideon’s chances.
Generally, Democrats favor implementing RCV. Last year they introduced the system in party primaries and caucuses in the states of Nevada, Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska and Hawaii. In Maine, Republican challengers’ objection to RCV was overruled by the Supreme Court.
As for advantages, RCV will force candidates to focus on appealing more to voters and less on attacking each other. Advocates add that the system helps prevent spoiler candidates — and ensures the candidate with the most support wins, rather than one who emerges from a crowded field with a small plurality of votes.
Now the all-important question: which Mayoral candidate in a wide field will benefit from the system on June 22? A New York Magazine analyst said it will be Andrew Yang simply based on his name identification — that most voters won’t be familiar enough with the other candidates to know whom to put further down on their ballots.
Ranking your voting choices
- Pick your first-choice candidate and fill in the oval next to their name on the ballot under the first column.
- If you have a second-choice candidate, fill in the oval next to their name under the 2nd column.
- You can choose to rank up to 5 candidates.
- You can still vote for just one candidate and leave the other columns blank
- You can only choose one candidate for each column
- Do not rank the same candidate more than once, because doing that will not make any difference.