By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Former City Councilmember and Peter Cooper resident Dan Garodnick joined nonprofit watchdog group Common Cause and other advocates earlier this month in front of the City Clerk’s Office to push New Yorkers to vote in favor of Ranked Choice Voting during this year’s election.
The current system in New York calls for a runoff election, or a second election, if no candidate received a majority in the first race. Ranked Choice Voting would eliminate the need for a second election, which advocates argued would save the city millions of dollars, especially because turnout is so low in runoff elections.
“The reality here is that so few people vote in these runoffs that they do little for democracy while adding huge unnecessary costs,” Garodnick said. “In 2009 when there was a runoff for both public advocate and city comptroller, New York City taxpayers paid $48.90 per vote, and the turnout was a mere 8% of eligible voters. In 2013, during the runoff election for public advocate, taxpayers were forced to spend an additional $10.4 million for an election with just 7% turnout. That is $51.20 per vote.”
With Ranked Choice Voting, instead of voting for just one candidate, voters will be able to rank their top five candidates in local primary and special elections, although voters will still also be able to vote for just one candidate if they wish.
“The candidate with the least ‘number one’ choices is eliminated,” Common Cause executive director Susan Lerner said when explaining the process. “Then all of the ‘number two’ preferences are then redistributed as if they were number one and you look to see if there’s a majority, and you run rounds. The rounds are announced [to the public] in all the cities that have Ranked Choice Voting so people can see what’s happening in the process.”
Garodnick said that one of his favorite reasons for supporting Ranked Choice Voting is that it will encourage campaigns to be less negative.
“Ranked Choice Voting will inevitably will make campaigns less hostile, less acrimonious, less poisonous, because if you want to be everyone’s second choice, you may think twice about launching that unfair, negative campaign,” he said.
Christopher Marte, a former City Council candidate and head of community support for political candidate training nonprofit Arena, said that he also feels that changing the system will positively impact how candidates campaign.
“Marginalized communities get ignored by campaigns every single cycle. People’s votes don’t matter because candidates and campaigns think that, ‘I don’t need that vote to win,’” Marte said. “Hopefully with Ranked Choice Voting, these marginalized communities, these communities of color, these communities that typically aren’t encouraged to go out to vote, will have a knock on their door with a flyer or a strategy for them to get them out to vote. This is about civic engagement and giving every New Yorker a voice.”
Lerner said that the city would likely spend some money putting together an educational campaign to explain how Ranked Choice Voting would work, but the cost would be worth it.
“I only wish that the city would spend $15 million on education campaigns,” she said, referring to the cost of runoff elections. “I haven’t seen one that’s that expensive, to be honest, so I would expect that there will be some flaws but it’s nowhere near what we spend on a runoff election.”
Garodnick added that it was frustrating being on the City Council and having to use limited funds for runoff elections.
“I can tell you from my 12 years in the City Council, I was in too many budget negotiating rooms when we were trying to come up with the necessary funds to keep libraries open, to support domestic violence victims, to provide shelter beds for homeless youth and everything in between,” he said. “So let’s save our money on this one and put it to better use.”
The question on Ranked Choice Voting is proposal 1 on the ballot. New Yorkers have an opportunity to vote early for the first time, starting on October 26. The early voting site for Stuyvesant Town is the Clinton School for Writers and Artists at 10 East 15th St. and the site for Peter Cooper Village is PS 116 at 210 East 33rd between Second and Third Avenues.
Other proposals on the ballot address amending the city charter to increase the size of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), to prohibit city elected officials and senior appointed officials from appearing before the agency or branch of government they served in for two years after they leave city service instead of the current one year, to allow the city to use a revenue stabilization fund, or “rainy day fund,” to save money for use in future years and to make changes to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process.
There is also a citywide race for public advocate and contests for Supreme Court and Civil Court judges for Stuy Town and Peter Cooper residents. For more detailed information about the ballot and poll sites, visit vote.nyc.