Ballot Question #1: Elections

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Give voters the choice of ranking up to five candidates in primary and special elections for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council beginning in January 2021. If voters still want to choose just one candidate, they can. A candidate who receives a majority of first-choice votes would win. If there is no majority winner, the last place candidate would be eliminated and any voter who had that candidate as their top choice would have their vote transferred to their next choice. This process would repeat until only two candidates remain, and the candidate with the most votes then would be the winner. This proposal would eliminate the separate run-off primary elections for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller;

Extend the time period between the occurrence of a vacancy in an elected City office and when a special election must be held to fill that vacancy. Special elections would generally be held 80 days after the vacancy occurs, instead of 45 days (for Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and Council Members) or 60 days (for Mayor); and

Adjust the timeline of the process for drawing City Council district boundaries so that it is completed before City Council candidates start gathering petition signatures to appear on the ballot for the next primary elections. This process occurs every ten years.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

The Way Things Are Now

Ranked Choice Voting. In most New York City elections, the candidate who gets the most votes wins. This is true even in elections with many candidates, where the winning candidate may receive a small percentage of the total.  This means that most voters voted for someone other than the winner. In primary elections for mayor, public advocate, or comptroller (and in special elections for mayor), if no candidate receives at least 40% of the vote, an additional election, called a runoff, is held between the top two candidates. Runoff elections are rare but costly to administer, and voter turnout is usually very low.

Timing of Special Elections. If the mayor, public advocate, comptroller, a borough president, or a City Council member leaves office before the end of their term, a nonpartisan special election is held to fill the seat until the next regularly scheduled election. Currently, most special elections must be held approximately 45 days after the vacancy occurs; for mayoral vacancies, a special election is held approximately 60 days later. State law requires the Board of Elections to send ballots to military voters 45 days before an election, which means military ballots for a special election must be mailed before the ballot is set. Also, potential candidates have very little time to petition to get on the ballot or run a campaign.

Timing of Redistricting. In 2020, there will be a federal census to count the people in the United States. After every census, City Council district boundaries are redrawn to account for changes in population. A Districting Commission appointed by the Mayor and the City Council holds public hearings, and submits a proposed district map to the City Council. If the Council objects, the Commission prepares a revised plan and asks for additional comments from the public and from the City Council. Currently, the next redistricting process must be completed in March 2023, eight months before the November general election. Under the old election calendar, with primary elections held in September, this gave Council candidates enough time to gather petition signatures to participate in primary elections. This deadline no longer works, however, because as of earlier this year, local and state primary elections are now held in June rather than in September.

If Ballot Question #1 Passes

Ranked Choice Voting. Voters would rank up to five candidates for each office in order of preference. To determine the winner, votes are counted in rounds. If one candidate receives a majority (more than 50%) of the first-choice votes, that person is the winner. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest number of first-choice votes will be eliminated, the voters who ranked that candidate first will have their votes transferred to their second-choice candidate, and the votes will be counted again.  This process will continue until only two candidates remain, and the candidate with the most votes wins the election. While the person who received the most first choice votes may not win, most voters will have cast a vote for the winner. Ranked choice voting will be used for all primary and special elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and City Council member, beginning in 2021. Separate runoff elections will be eliminated.

Timing of Special Elections. After a vacancy occurs, there would generally be about 80 days before a special election is held. Accurate ballots could be sent to military voters on time, and potential candidates would have more time to get on the ballot and reach voters about their campaigns.

Timing of Redistricting. The deadlines for drawing new City Council district lines will be moved three months earlier to December 2022, eleven months before the general election, to allow candidates and voters adequate time to prepare for the June primary election.



Statements Supporting Proposal

Tousif Ahsan, Civic Engagement Coordinator, NYPIRG

NYPIRG urges a YES vote on Question 1.
Ranked Choice Voting is an exciting step forward for democracy and increasing voter choice. Low voter turnout, negative campaigns, a lack of diversity among candidates, and expensive runoff elections with even lower participation rates have plagued municipal elections. Ranked Choice Voting has been shown to successfully address these issues across the country and will also help ensure that candidates reach out to more voters since they can’t win with just a small plurality of votes. We strongly support bringing Ranked Choice Voting to New York City elections.
Adjusting the timelines for special elections and redistricting are also common sense reforms. The Board of Elections can use the extra time to avoid technical issues and administer more efficient elections and candidates will have more time to speak to their neighbors and build grassroots support for their campaigns.

Campaign Legal Center

Campaign Legal Center strongly supports Question 1. Under this proposal, New York City voters would elect candidates through Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a process that allows voters to rank candidates for a particular office. For example, if four candidates—A, B, C, and D—are running for Mayor, voters would rank the candidates in order of their preference. Let’s say a voter’s preference is B, C, D, and A. If no candidate has the majority of the vote and B has the least amount of votes, then B’s votes are distributed to each voter’s second choice. In this case, C. This process repeats until a candidate has a majority of the votes.
With RCV, voters do not have to strategically vote for candidates they believe are most likely to win—if B is your favorite candidate, you can vote for B without fear that your vote will be wasted. This proposal would also lead to more positive campaign dynamics because candidates have to appeal to more voters and would save the City money because runoffs are not required. In sum, Question 1 is a positive step in innovative democracy reform, giving voters more choices and more responsive representation.

Jan Combopiano, Indivisible Brooklyn, Indivisible Brooklyn

Ranked choice voting prioritizes voters in the election process. It’s putting the choice back in voters’ hands - they get to vote for the candidates they want, rather than gaming out who they think will win. And, under RCV, candidates can no longer neglect any group of voters, which is good for everyone, as their vote must be earned, not taken for granted or ignored. Plus, it saves voters’ time - the public gets to know who won quickly & won’t have to come back & vote in a costly runoff election. Ranked Choice Voting is good for all of us.

Citizens Union

Citizens Union recommends a yes vote on question 1, which would establish ranked choice voting in primary and special elections, and change deadlines on special elections and the beginning of the redistricting process.
Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote on the first tally, then the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. The votes for that candidate then go to the candidate ranked second. This continues until two candidates remain.

Sue Ellen Dodell, Attorney

Ranked choice voting enables New Yorkers to have candidates with views that most voters support win elections. The current voting system enables a candidate to win if he or she receives the most votes, even if there are many candidates running and no candidate wins a majority of votes. In races with several candidates, a candidate may win the election but represent views which a majority of the electorate do not support, because this majority has split its votes among the other candidates in the race. By enabling voters to choose candidates in order of preference, voters can be assured that even if their first-choice candidate does not win, a candidate who supports their views, most likely their second or third choice candidate, will win.

B. Samuel Fried, Exec

Ranked Choice voting is by far better than the current runoff method. It insures a fair election and avoids costly and unnecessary run off elections. It's about time to enter the modern age.

Teri Hagedorn, Volunteer, Represent Us

Too often in NYC elections, candidates win with less than 50% of the vote. In the recent Public Advocate election, for example, the top candidate won with only 33%. 67% of New Yorkers voted for someone other than the winner.
The solution to this broken process is Ranked Choice Voting, where candidates have to receive a MAJORITY of the vote to win. Why is it better?
Winning candidates get support from the majority of voters instead of just a small percentage.
Campaigns can become more positive and civil since opponents wants to earn the second-choice votes of their opponents’ supporters.
Elections are cheaper and easier since there’s no need to hold costly runoff elections, which can cost as much as $20M in New York and often under-represent lower-income and minority voters.
We ask that you vote YES on Question 1 to implement RCV in NYC elections and make sure the will of New Yorkers is better represented.
RepresentUs is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for state and local laws based on model legislation called the American Anti-Corruption Act, a proposal to overhaul lobbying, transparency, and campaign finance laws.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director, Common Cause/NY

As a result of our robust campaign finance system and term limits, crowded multi-candidate primaries and special elections are the norm in NYC. This has produced elections where candidates win without receiving support from a majority of voters.
Question 1 addresses this through the institution of a top five Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) system for our local elections. Instead of voting for just 1 candidate, voters can choose to rank their top 5 candidates in our local primary and special elections. If voters still want to vote for just one candidate, they can.
RCV is a popular reform that has been road tested around the country and the world. And unlike our current election system, RCV forces politicians to compete everywhere and pay attention to every community. It also empowers voters and puts more power in the hands of New Yorkers. Candidates win with a clear majority, greater than 50% of the vote. RCV saves money by avoiding costly citywide runoffs. And, finally, it helps New Yorkers make sense of crowded elections which is critically important for the 2021 cycle when the CFB predicts over 500 candidates will be running for open seats.

New York Immigration Coalition

New York Immigration Coalition Position: Support
In places that have adopted Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), there has been a significant improvement in the racial/ethnic and gender diversity of election winners, leading to legislatures and executives who better reflect their districts. Under RCV, second-place votes may be the deciding factor, and this encourages candidates to reach out to communities they normally would not, communities who may not select the candidate as their first choice, but may choose them second. This means more voters in more communities count for every candidate, better ensuring those communities wants and needs become important election issues.
Extending the time to call special elections gives military and overseas voters more opportunity to return their absentee ballots and for the City to comply with the new early voting law.
Moving up the deadline for drawing district lines gives anyone considering a run for office earlier notice for which district they are eligible to represent, before petitioning begins.

John Park, Executive Director, MinKwon Center for Community Action

There are structural problems with our current election process, particularly during primaries, which overwhelmingly ends up deciding elections in New York City compared to general elections. The current system incentivizes negative campaigning, and adds a barrier for the best ideas and policy platforms to have the value it should in deciding elections, hurting the democratic process. Ironically, candidates with similar policy priorities will attack each other to capture the voters who are aligned with their general positions
Ranked Choice Voting helps remove these incentives, setting up a friendlier environment among candidates to help narrow the focus on the issues, which is good for democracy and good for New York City.
Ranked Choice Voting, adopted by a number of cities, has shown that it is favored not only by candidates, but voters as well, and New York City deserves a system that benefits us all.

Dion Powell, Director of PR & Government Relations, Special Forces, LLC.

1. FOR- With nearly 40 vacancies for City Council in 2021, ranked voting will allow people to choose more than one candidate at time there by giving nonpolitical establishment candidates a fair chance to win.
2. FOR- By taking the majority of the board appointments from the mayor and giving it to the city council, it will give a more diverse opportunity citywide of appointments from different areas of interest of the council members. Each council member has different issues and concerns especially when it comes to the NYPD.
3. FOR- More shared control of the Conflicts of Interest Board between the mayor, comptroller, and Public Advocate would allow for more checks and balances for Ethical issues in government.
4. FOR- Allows more city council participation and oversight in the budget process. Saving for future economic situations is a prudent course of action with all that has been seen throughout the years.
5. FOR- Good to have more advanced shared information for the boroughs and public review to land use. This will hold government accountable and help fight gentrification.

Reinvent Albany

Reinvent Albany works for transparent, accountable New York City and State government. We urge you to vote YES on Question 1 and approve Ranked Choice Voting.
The idea behind RCV is to ensure candidates that have the widest support win. Currently in NYC, candidates in primary elections for mayor can win with just 40% of the vote, while City Council candidates often win with even less. In 2013, 14 of 21 NYC Council primaries for open seats were won with less than 50% of the vote.
With RCV, voters will rank candidates 1 through 5 in primary and special elections for New York City offices. If no candidate gets at least 50% of first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes of people who voted for the eliminated candidate are assigned to the remaining candidates. This continues until a candidate gets over 50% of the votes. RCV eliminates the need for expensive, low-turnout runoff elections.
RCV is used around the world, including in places like Australia and Canada, and closer to home in Oakland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Maine, plus it’s used at the Academy Awards to select Oscar winners.

Martin Samoylov

In previous city elections, candidates which a mere 30 or 40 percent of the vote have come out as victors. Having such a small percentage of voters chose an elected official isn't very democratic. Ranked-choice voting would address this as well as the fear of a "wasted vote", by allowing voters to pick more than one candidate. This is especially important for local races, which can often be unpredictable.
The proposal also tackles the very short amount a City Council seat can be vacant, which has previously led to seemingly unnecessary special elections being called close to general primaries.
And giving candidates a look into how their districts will be changed after the census can lead them to campaign and strategize for the right neighborhoods early.
Because of these benefits, I urge everyone to vote YES on Ballot Question 1.

Bella Wang, Board of Directors, League of Women Voters of the City of New York

We recommend a “yes” vote on this ballot item. We support ranked-choice voting in primary and special elections at the local level because it allows voters to rank candidates, while providing a mechanism for an “instant runoff,” if no candidate gets more than 50% of people’s first-choice votes.
This voting method has three effects: First, voters can express more information about their preferences when there are many candidates. Second, City Council candidates will no longer be able to win primary elections with under 40% of the vote. Third, costly, low-turnout physical runoff elections will no longer be necessary when the Mayor, Public Advocate, or Comptroller receives under 40% of the vote in a primary election. (Historically, Public Advocate runoffs have cost as much as $13 million with as low as 7% turnout.)

Jason Wang

Being allowed to choose your preferred candidate is a greater expression of exercising democracy than being forced to choose someone who is more "electable".

Jeffrey M. Wice, Attorney

The New York City councilmanic redistricting commission timeline needs to be changed to accommodate the new Spring primary to take place in 2023. Voters will be asked to approve a charter amendment to move up deadlines for districting commission appointments and map approval to meet the new state election calendar enacted by the legislature in 2019.
In prior redistricting cycles, the final redistricting plan was adopted in the February before the first council election after the decennial census (2003, 2013, etc.). The February enactment also provided enough time for federal approval under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that covered Manhattan, The Bronx and Brooklyn. Plans in 2003 and 2013 were approved by the Justice Department in time before June petitioning got underway. Section 5 preclearance no longer applies after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision vacated the trigger that required Section 5 coverage for jurisdictions with certain levels of past voter discrimination.
Under the proposed amendment, a new council map must be approved by December 28, 2022. This change would enable candidates to plan in time for February 28, 2023 petitioning.

Statements Opposing Proposal

Jeffrey Geary

this initiative will pretending to advocate choice and saving $ is only a ploy to eliminate party opposition, while 1 party with the most resources in NYC can pack the process with 10 candidates and only the top 2 go forward for election, and effectively eliminating any opposing party and creating a 1 party system, as stacked as it is in NY towards 1 party this would cement the deal forever, we don't need an East Coast California,

Dorothy LaBarbera, Retired Teacher

A yes or no vote on this ballot issue covers concepts that are broadly related but perhaps should be considered separately?

Mark Lieberman, Researcher

History tells us, turnout in an odd-numbered year preceding a Presidential election produces is painfully low. Other than compelling people to vote, nothing will change that. Even if any question receives 100 percent of the vote, it will not have the support of a majority of New Yorkers. The vote should be postponed until 2020.
That said, Question 1 would violate state election law which mandates a runoff for a "winning" primary candidate who receives less than 40 percent of the vote.
Mathematics tells us with rank-choice voting, a candidate opposed by more than 50 percent of the electorate could win.

Janie Medina, Librarian

Keep voting as is. Creating a ranking system will confuse voters. May lead to votes being recounted, etc.