Not our first choice: How to better employ RCV in NYC’s future

·2 min read

Ranked-choice voting has brought a new lens of analysis to New York City voters, in which comparative preference now trumps binary for-and-against thinking. In that spirit, let’s make our own comparative preference about ballot-counting systems clear: We like ranked-choice better than the old winner-take-all method, especially because we’re happy to have scrapped pricey, low-turnout runoffs. But New York could do far better than employing RCV only in partisan primaries. It’s a far better fit for nonpartisan general elections, which is how they use it everywhere else in America.

New York, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a heavily Democratic town — one where 3.7 million registered Democrats outnumber 566,000 registered Republicans nearly seven-to-one. That means the winner of the Democratic primary is all but guaranteed to win the general election for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, City Council and other races. (In the mayoralty, exceptions have been the rule 20 of the last 28 years, but we chalk that up to Mike Bloomberg’s billions and Rudy Giuliani meeting a unique moment, both in less partisan eras.)

Trouble is, the 3.7 million Democrats who pick their standard-bearers in a primary are just 66% of the 5.6 million registered voters citywide. Independents number more than 1 million and Republicans about half that. Since they have no say in the most important primary, they are essentially disenfranchised in helping choose who leads the city.

Adding a second layer of unfairness is the fact that though registered Republicans are a small minority, just 10% of the electorate, the candidate they pick in their closed primary — this year, Curtis Sliwa — is guaranteed a slot in the general election, when he would almost certainly not be a top-two finisher in an all-comers election.

A far better way to employ RCV is to make the general election nonpartisan, opening it to all candidates who can demonstrate a set threshold of support. Then, no party’s candidate gets a guaranteed place on the November ballot and every voter of every persuasion gets a voice.

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