New York City adopts ranked choice voting system for some races

NEW YORK -- New York City voters passed a ballot measure to adopt a ranked choice voting system in some future elections on Tuesday in the first statewide election that included early voting.

The new system, which passed with overwhelming support, will let people rank up to five candidates in order of preference, rather than picking just one to support.

Other places, including Maine and San Francisco, already use ranked choice voting systems, but New York City will be the most populous place in the United States to embrace it.

The system will be used in primaries and special elections starting in 2021.

The city's referendum on early voting was among the more noteworthy races in relatively quiet but still groundbreaking election season in New York as voters across the state cast ballots in county and municipal races.

With no federal or statewide contests on the ballot, turnout was expected to be low, but this election is serving as a rehearsal of sorts for next year's blockbuster presidential contest.

It marks the first time New York has allowed early voting, and officials said roughly a quarter-million ballots were cast around the state between Oct. 26 and the conclusion of the early voting period Sunday.

Elsewhere in the state, voters were electing county executives and comptrollers, including on Long Island, where Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, defeated county's Republican comptroller, John Kennedy, to win reelection.

In the southwesternmost corner of New York, voters were deciding the outcome of a special election to fill a state Senate seat left vacant by Republican Cathy Young, who resigned for a job at Cornell University this year. Recent college graduate Austin Morgan, a Democrat, is facing off against Republican Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello to fill the District 57 seat.

Under the ranked choice system now being adopted in New York City, If no candidate gets more than 50% of first-place votes, it would create an instant runoff in which the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and the votes of people who favored that candidate are transferred to their second choice. That process continues until one candidate gets over 50%.

Rob Richie, the executive director of national advocacy group FairVote, hailed the ballot measure's passage.

"New York City voters showed confidence in growing evidence that ranked choice voting can strengthen local democracy, eliminate the spoiler effect in large fields of candidates, and allow fresh energy to enter races while making sure that candidates who win do so with majority support from the community," Richie said in a statement. "Today's vote was a tremendous victory for local reformers that campaigned to place ranked choice on the ballot in the first place, and led the effort to educate voters in coalition with other organizations on the ground."

Proponents of the ranked choice system say it favors candidates with the broadest appeal. Opponents say it can be confusing.

In other voting in New York City, Democrat Melinda Katz won the Queens district attorney's race and Democrat Jumaane Williams was re-elected to the New York City position of public advocate

Williams, who won a special election for the public advocate's job earlier this year, defeated Republican City Council member Joseph Borelli and Libertarian Devin Balkind on Tuesday to keep it the position that critics have long argued is unnecessary.

"By the time my tenure is done, no one ever again will question what the public advocate is and if we need that office," Williams vowed.

Katz, the Queens borough president, will take over the Queens district attorney's job that became vacant after the death of longtime district attorney Richard Brown in May.

She won handily on Tuesday after squeaking out a Democratic primary win against Democratic Socialists of America candidate Tiffany Cabán. Her opponent in the general election was Joseph Murray, a retired police officer who is running as a Republican, although he is a registered Democrat.

"We're facing here an opportunity to make a national model for criminal justice reform and if we don't do it right here, it's gonna have massive effects all throughout this country," Katz said after declaring victory.

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