New York City Mayoral Race Prompts Review of Ranked-Choice Voting

vote-tallying mishap taints citywide debut of ranked-choice voting

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A vote-tallying bungle in New York’s mayoral race earned national attention. The city released early reports of votes only to retract them after discovering more than 100,000 votes had been counted erroneously. Ranked-choice voting is gaining popularity.

Voting sign close up at voting poll location
While voting is a basic democratic right and a privilege in the United States, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mandate any one voting method. Photo By Michael Rolands / Shutterstock

On June 29, the New York City mayoral election ground to a halt when the city’s Board of Elections published an erroneous vote count, retracting it hours later. When the dust settled, the discrepancy seemed to have come from 135,000 sample ballots accidentally being included in the count. The incident didn’t bode well for the city’s new ranked-choice voting system, in which voters can list their preferred candidates in order.

Ranked-choice voting is seldom implemented in the United States, though it is on the rise. In her video series Understanding the U.S. Government, Dr. Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Associate Professor of Political Science at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, explained its pros and cons.

The Maine” Idea

With ranked-choice voting, voters list their candidates by preference. When all the votes are tallied, the candidate with the majority of first-preference votes wins. If no candidate receives the majority, then the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, as are their first-preference votes.

A new tally is then conducted to determine who has the most first-preference votes from the remainder.

“Instead of using direct majority-rule votes in U.S. elections, there is an increasing interest in using ranked-choice voting,” Dr. Victor said. “As of 2019, the state of Maine has implemented ranked-choice voting for its state and federal elections. Eight other states have local jurisdictions that use ranked-choice voting in some way, and another four localities have adopted it, but not yet fully implemented it.”

According to Dr. Victor, states and localities can opt into ranked-choice voting because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mandate any one voting method.

Pros and Cons

“Supporters of ranked-choice voting see it as a viable method to improve democracy in the U.S.,” Dr. Victor said. “They argue that ranked-choice voting can improve representation, reduce the negative consequences of gerrymandering, allow for more voters to draw the benefits of electoral expression from their voting experience, and ultimately reduce partisan polarization by introducing more variance into the parties and ideologies of elected officials.”

Supporters also claim it will make elections more competitive in a productive way, benefiting representative democracy.

Opponents argue that ranked-choice voting will lead to a rise in extremists being elected, and that the amount of diversity represented will present challenges for coordinating within and across political parties. It could also reduce those parties’ strength, which could make political polarization worse.

“We’ll need more experience with ranked-choice voting in different settings before we can decide how well it works, and if using it could improve American democracy,” Dr. Victor said. “In my professional view, it has a fair amount of potential to affect some of the worst consequences of polarization, but it probably is not a magic elixir.”

Regardless of whether ranked-choice voting is ultimately good or bad for local, state, and federal elections, New York’s Board of Elections will need accountability and safeguards to prevent a repeat of its bungled vote tally.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily