We can't rank ranked-choice voting yet!
Feb 10, 2021 | 5681 views | 0 0 comments | 858 858 recommendations | email to a friend | print
So how did ranked-choice voting fare in the first election to use it since voters adopted a referendum making it standard practice in elections for posts in city government?

We’ll have to wait until the next election to find out!

Ranked-choice voting is a method to ensure that the winner of an election has over 50 percent of the vote. After the first tally of ballots, if one candidate doesn’t have over 50 percent of the vote, the ballots of the candidate with the least first-place votes are distributed to person voters marked as their second choice.

That process continues until a candidate has over 50 percent of the vote.

The logic is that the system prevents a candidate from winning an election in a large field with something like 30 percent of the vote, and that the eventual winner appealed, at least in some part, to a greater majority of registered voters.

The special election in northeast Queens to replace Rory Lancman in the City Council was going to be the first election to use ranked-choice voting.

But we’ll have to wait to see how the system works, as James Gennaro easily bested the other seven candidates, earning 59.8 percent of the vote on the first tally.

There are still about 600 absentee ballots yet to be counted, which theoretically could be spread among the other candidates in a way that causes Gennaro to fall below 50 percent, triggering a second tally of the last-place candidates ballots, but that seems unlikely.

The next election for a city office is also a special election in Queens, this time to fill the south Queens City Council seat vacated by Donovan Richards when he was elected borough president. It will take place on February 23.

On March 23, there will be two special elections to fill two empty City Council seats in the Bronx.

Incumbents always have an advantage in New York City. And while there wasn’t technically an incumbent in last week’s special election, it’s fair to say that James Gennaro enjoyed some of the advantages that incumbents typically have.

Gennaro was elected to the same City Council seat in 2001 and served three terms in office, so he is well-known throughout the district, especially in the political circles that would be most likely to motivate voters to head to the polls in a random election in February the day after the largest snowstorm in the city in years.

In other words, the conditions were far from ideal for a candidate with little to no record and lacking name recognition to run in their first election.

We’re not even sure how many voters actually realized that ranked-choice voting was in effect, but unless they were following this race closely, Gennaro is probably the only name on the ballot that many people recognized, giving him a huge advantage.

We bet a lot of voters put Gennaro as their first choice, looked at the rest of the names and realized they had no idea how to rank two through five, and simply turned in their ballot having only voted for Gennaro.

Remember, you don’t have to rank your top five, it’s just an option.

The race later this month to replace Richards doesn’t feature a household name, so we predict no one candidate is going to get over 50 percent of the vote after the first tally. In fact, it might take several counts before a candidate reaches that threshold.

It looks like the election of February 23 will actually be the city’s first test run of the ranked-choice voting system before the June primaries, when dozens of City Council seats and every citywide elected post is on the ballot.

Let’s hope the Board of Elections can get it right.
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