Ranked Choice Voting Explained

Our organization, The Jewish Vote, the electoral arm of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, was the first group to make ranked endorsements in this election, backing more than one candidate in multiple races to establish a clear progressive lane of top contenders.

LUCAS SHAPIRO & JENNA ROSEN | June 4, 2021 | The Indypendent

New York City faces a historic primary on June 22: For the first time in almost a century, we’ll be using the system known as Ranked Choice Voting. Voters will be able to pick up to five candidates per race, ranking them in order of preference.

While the left has scored major victories in New York in recent years, this election cycle we’ve largely failed to develop effective RCV strategies, coalesce around preferred candidates, or coordinate our opposition to the most dangerous contenders.

Consider the damage that could be done by a mayor in bed with Wall Street, real-estate developers, and the police — a mayor like Andrew Yang or Eric Adams. Now imagine what we could accomplish with a strong progressive mayor alongside a City Council dedicated to co-governance and transformative change.

The turn to RCV, approved by popular referendum in 2019, is forcing candidates, endorsing organizations, and voters to reconsider how we engage in electoral politics.

For voters, this means navigating new and often confusing considerations about who to rank, in what order, and if we should fill all 5 slots in our primary ballots. Generally, it’s good to rank as many candidates you like in order of preference to ensure your ballot has maximum impact. That’s because as votes are counted, the candidate who receives the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and their votes are added to their second-choice candidates’ totals. This process repeats until a candidate has received at least 50% of the vote, ensuring that the victor has majoritarian support. If your top two ranked candidates are eliminated early, for example, then your 3rd, and then 4th and 5th ranked choices will be used for each round of redistributing votes to the remaining candidates. In short, you may want to fill your 4th and 5th ranked spots with more centrist candidates to block more rightwing candidates from coming out on top.

For 501c4 organizations that can endorse candidates, this has meant opting whether to support more than one candidate and whether to rank or co-endorse and allow voters to decide who to put up top their ballots. Our organization, The Jewish Vote, the electoral arm of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, was the first group to make ranked endorsements in this election, backing more than one candidate in multiple races to establish a clear progressive lane of top contenders. Many NYC political clubs or unions have only endorsed single candidates per race this cycle, eschewing this important strategy.

For candidates, RCV should compel them to tactfully seek allies and expand their base of potential support. In some Council races, we’ve been delighted to see candidates we endorsed for the same seat share space in a comradely fashion, often working together to ensure that one of them defeats a more conservative or machine candidate. But in others, candidates we’ve endorsed have regrettably opted against campaigning in tandem, sharing communication strategies, or other tactics that would increase the likelihood their supporters will rank the two (or three) of them at the top of their ballot.

For our movements and the broad Left, this election cycle is full of promise and peril and the reintroduction of RCV adds a layer of unpredictability. Of the 300+ candidates running for mostly open city council seats, there are dozens of genuine lefties with a real shot at winning. And despite the increasingly dismal mayoral race, polls still show that the majority of city voters embrace a progressive policy vision for our city. How we spend the remaining days of the race could tip the scales towards transformational change and overcome the right-wing, real-estate and corporate PAC money flooding the airwaves and our mailboxes. Deeper structural change historically comes from the bottom up, and the outcome of these races will be pivotal for the next decade of NYC politics. The choice is ours to make.