A special election to fill a Queens City Council seat, which was left vacate when Rory Lancman agreed to take a post in the Cuomo administration as the state’s first Special Counsel for Ratepayer Protection to advocate on behalf of customers of utility companies, will be the first to use the new system approved by voters in a referendum last year.
Early voting begins on January 24, with the election taking place on February 2. There are eight candidates who qualified for the ballot, so ranked-choice voting will definitely play a significant role in choosing a winner.
Voters will rank their top five candidates. If one candidate doesn’t receive over 50 percent of the vote, people who voted for the candidate that received the least amount of votes will have their votes distributed to their second choice.
The votes are tallied again. If no one reaches the 50.1 percent threshold, people who voted for the candidate who now has the least amount of votes have their ballots go to their second choice.
If their second choice has already been eliminated, then their ballot will go to their third choice. The process continues until one candidate sits at over 50 percent of the vote.
With eight candidates in the field, it is highly unlikely that one of them will get over 50 percent of the vote after the first tally. In fact, we would bet the vote-counting will go a minimum of three rounds before any candidate has a chance of reaching that mark.
In the past, a special election with this many candidates was often won with about 30 percent of the vote. That means the winner was not the preferred choice of over 70 percent of the electorate.
The thinking behind ranked-choice voting is that at least the winner will be “preferable” to a larger majority of the electorate than just those who voted outright for them, resulting in more just representation.
It also means that candidates will have to tread more carefully and be concerned about alienating another candidate’s supporters, as they will want to be in their top three choices even if they won’t be their first.
Some common questions answered:
• You do not have to rank five candidates, you can choose to rank fewer.
• If you give the same candidate multiple rankings, for instance ranking them first, second and third, it will be as if you left your second and third choices blank.
• If you give multiple candidates the same ranking, it is known as an “over-vote.” Your ballot will be tossed out once voting reaches that choice, and it will not be counted in later rankings.
• You are still able to write in a candidate’s name and give them the ranking of your choice.
A sample ballot for the District 24 special election was released this week, and it looks pretty easy to understand.
However, we are sure there are going to be a number of voters who arrive at the polls unaware that ranked-choice voting is the new system and be utterly confused as to how it works, especially if they start asking questions about why choices two through five even matter.
A special election will be a good test run. There will likely be very low voter turnout, and the Board of Elections only has to focus on one race to work out the kinks.
Can you imagine if the first time ranked-choice voting was used was in the June 2021 primary when voters – primarily Democratic ones – will go to the polls to cast their ballots for comptroller, mayor and approximately three-dozen open City Council seats, all races that will have a dizzying number of candidates?
Ranked-choice voting is definitely going to play a huge factor in the outcome of those races.
More worrisome, however, is that the Board of Elections has problems running polls and tallying votes during a normal election, how long is it going to take to declare a winner if the ballots have to be counted three, four, perhaps even five, times?
It will be a bad sign if BOE can’t even run this special election smoothly.