NYC elections: What is ranked choice voting?

NYC will use ranked choice voting for Primary and Special Elections. Here's what you need to know.
NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Just a year after the 2020 presidential election charted a new course for the United States, folks in New York City will head back to the polls to chart a new course for the nation's most populous metropolis.

But recent history suggests the Democratic candidate will be a heavy favorite over their Republican counterpart. That means the true main event might be the Democratic primary set for June 22.

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A dozen candidates are on the ballot and no clear frontrunner has emerged. So how on earth are you going to choose a single candidate with absolute confidence that they are best-suited to govern?

Well -- for the first time in history, New York City will use ranked choice voting for their upcoming 2021 primary and special elections.

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It's a relatively new voting format that dramatically reimagines how we choose our leaders.

So what is ranked choice voting and how does it work? We break down the voting system with everything that you need to know.

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For the first time in history, New York City will use ranked choice voting for their upcoming 2021 primary and special elections.



What is ranked choice voting?


The concept is relatively simple: voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference, instead of casting a vote for just one. You can mark a first choice candidate, second choice candidate, and so on up to your fifth choice candidate. If you prefer, you can still vote for just one candidate.

It's designed for those times you voted and thought: "I like more than one candidate on this ballot." Or maybe you concluded: "I really like Candidate A but I don't think he can win, so I'm going to vote for Candidate B because I think that person can beat Candidate C in the general election."

How does it work?


If a candidate gets a majority of votes (over 50%) they are declared the winner. However, if no candidate gets a majority of the vote:

  • The last place candidate is eliminated, and their votes are parceled out to the voter's second choice.

  • A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes.

  • The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority and is declared the winner.


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    The first primary debate of the Democratic party took place Thursday, featuring a diverse group of candidates attempting to tackle complicated issues.



    How to mark your ballot


    Voters will be able to submit ballots one of two ways: using an AutoMark ballot marking device or via paper ballots.

    AutoMark ballots
    The AutoMark displays each "choice" as a separate screen. On the first screen, you will select your first-choice candidate. If you have a second-choice candidate, you will select that candidate on the next screen labeled "Choice 2."

    If you prefer, you can still vote for just one candidate. To do so, select your first choice candidate on the "Choice 1" screen and do not select anyone for any other "Choice" screens.

    Paper ballots
    Pick your first-choice candidate and fill in the oval next to their name under the first column. If you have a second-choice candidate, fill in the oval next to their name under the second column. You can continue until you rank up to five candidates.

    Again, you do not have to rank all five. You can still vote for just one candidate and leave the other columns blank.

    Don't do this!


    With a new system comes new rules. Here are some things you'll want to avoid when filling out your ballot. Don't:

  • Fill in more than one oval for a candidate

  • Select the same candidate for multiple "Choice" screens

  • Give more than one candidate the same ranking

  • Also: Ovals that are not filled in completely cannot be read by the machine

  • What elections will it be used for?


    Ranked choice voting will be used in 2021 for the following New York City municipal offices: Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President and City Council elections.

    Why change the process?


    In a 2019 ballot measure, 73.5% of New York City Voters voted yes for Ranked Choice Voting. But let's examine some positives that the process could bring.

    It Takes 50
    In 2013, Bill de Blasio secured his first Democratic nomination with just more than 40% of the vote. Ask yourself -- is 40% of the vote representing democracy at its finest? Under ranked choice voting, you need 50% to win the primary. If we had ranked voting in 2013, de Blasio may not have won.

    Ad Campaigns
    Advocates say there's less negative ad campaigning with ranked voting because it's less about why you shouldn't vote for an opponent and more of why you should vote for the person taking out an ad.

    More Representation
    A study of the San Francisco Bay area cities that have switched to ranked choice voting shows that candidates of color have won more than 60% of races. That's compared to less than 40% prior to ranked-choice.

    What's the significance?


    Now to the final big question; why is this upcoming primary here in New York City such a critical moment for the ranked choice voting movement?

    Because this is the biggest city to have switched to ranked choice. The hope is that voter turn out with this system will increase because it's more interesting and more representative.

    And if voter registration data is any indication (over 3.5 million people were registered with the Democratic party in NYC last year), combined with numbers suggesting voter turnout was higher than expected in other ranked choice voting elections, the 2021 Mayoral Democratic Primary could shape up to be the biggest test of the system in American history.

    It's all about making democracy more accessible. And in the melting pot that is New York ... that's a good thing!


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    Frequently Asked Questions



    WHAT IF I DON'T WANT TO RANK ALL THE CANDIDATES?
    You don't have to rank all five. You can rank as many or as few candidates (up to 5) as you like. If you choose to vote for only one candidate, just leave the other columns blank.

    UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES CAN MY FIRST CHOICE BE ELIMINATED?
    If no candidate receives more than 50% of first-choice votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated. If your first choice is eliminated, your next choice will be counted, and so on. The process of elimination continues until there is a winner.

    CAN I GIVE MULTIPLE CANDIDATES THE SAME RANKING?
    No. If you give multiple candidates the same ranking, this is called an "over-vote". Your vote in that rank and later ranks cannot be counted.

    CAN I CAST A WRITE-IN VOTE?
    Yes. To vote for a candidate whose name is not on the ballot, write the name on the "Write-in" line, and fill in an oval to rank your choice.
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