ALBANY — It obviously wasn’t their first choice.
The city’s initial attempt at ranked-choice voting was castigated on Monday as critics cast the primary rollout as confusing and even disenfranchising during an hours-long Assembly hearing.
State lawmakers gathered at the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn to hear from civil rights attorneys, advocates and members of the City Council who questioned the way the system was implemented by the city Board of Elections.
It wasn’t just the long wait for results and the board’s inclusion of test ballots in official results that earned the ire of opponents. Many say the city should have done more to educate voters about the new ranking system and better trained poll workers.
“We can not pretend that these instances are mutually exclusive issues,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-Queens). “Ranked-choice voting has never been implemented in a municipality anywhere near the size or the diversity of the city of New York.
“And the many snafus leading up to the primary day combined with the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic created a perfect storm for disfunction and confusion,” he added.
Miller is lead sponsor of a bill that would add a referendum to the November ballot asking voters if they want to repeal ranked choice voting. RCV was initially approved through a ballot referendum in 2019, which critics noted was an off-year election with low turnout.
Most reviews of the system have been mixed after Brooklyn borough resident Eric Adams eked out a narrow win in the Democratic mayoral primary, with some questioning whether ranked-choice performed better than a traditional runoff between top vote-getters.
Others didn’t mince words as they painted the system as oppressive and even racist.
Kirsten John Foy, the northeast regional director of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, likened ranked-choice voting to “a nefarious intentional plan to dilute the votes of African Americans, of people of color in this city.”
Good government groups disagree, arguing that ranked-choice voting was a success despite stumbles by the Board of Elections.
Citizens Union issued a report Monday that found the system worked as intended by increasing voter interest and participation, reducing “wasted votes” and eliminating the need for often costly runoff elections.
“This election marked the first time Ranked Choice Voting was widely used in New York City, and the results were overwhelmingly positive,” said Betsy Gotbaum, the group’s executive director. “It gave more voters a say in who runs our city, helped drive up voter turnout, led to a more diverse pool of candidates, and helped more women and people of color win.
“The concerns expressed by opponents of this reform were largely unfounded,” she added.
The State Senate is holding a separate hearing next week with a wider focus. Lawmakers say they want to hear from voters about their experience with elections during both the 2020 presidential election as well as this year’s primary.