New York Voters Need to be Educated on Ranked Choice Voting to Ensure Their Ballot Counts This Election


February 4, 2021

The 2021 NYC primary elections are rapidly approaching—and as an increasing number of individuals file for candidacy each day, it is on track to be the largest municipal race that not only this city, but this country has seen. But there is another factor that makes this election historically significant—it will be the first time that the Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) method is used on a ballot in New York.

Another predicted historical stat for the race? It will have the dubious “honor” of bringing with it the lowest amount of voter awareness or understanding of the most critical part of an election: the voting process itself.

In RCV, voters are able to select multiple candidates that they support and rank their choices in descending order. Since ballots are counted through multiple elimination rounds until a candidate reaches a plurality of votes, each name a voter ranks could potentially be tallied.

This method has a significant impact on the way voters may engage with candidates and approach their ballots, and may be extremely confusing if the voter hasn’t been adequately educated on the process or given time to process the change. Yet, the only form of distributed education on this issue has been an FAQ sheet posted on the NYC Campaign Finance page—a place few voters would go to seek out information on an issue that almost half aren’t even aware exists.

In numerous statements, the NY Board of Elections and NYC Campaign Finance have mentioned the creation of education platforms and resources in order to best reach out to communities, especially those of color. But as of now, there have been minimal steps taken toward disseminating these resources en masse, leaving many people uninformed and ill-equipped to participate in the election process.

By moving forward with RCV without educating large portions of the population directly affected by this change, these officials are failing in their due-diligence and jeopardizing voters’ right to participate in a truly fair election.

Four of the biggest concerns around moving forward with Ranked-Choice Voting:

  1. The majority of the voters did not vote for the amendment in 2019. Although the actual ballot passed with over 70 percent of support from NY voters as noted on the NY Campaign Finance page, that 73.5 percent only accounts for 40 percent of registered voters that actually voted in that 2019 election—therefore this does not accurately represent the registered voter base in its entirety.
  2. There has been little to no education done on how the actual system works. The New York Board of Elections has stated that they hope to roll out an education platform alongside the New York Campaign Finance Board including the launch of a $1 million campaign that includes mailing postcards to voters—but this feels like too little, too late. Many prominent elected officials across the city have vocalized their opposition to starting the voting system in the upcoming special elections but have failed in changing the verdict after filing a lawsuit in early December.
  3. The system overall is confusing and is not well-publicized. The new method is a complete 180 from the widely understood concept of one voice, one vote. Without properly addressing this significant change, the new system will be a disadvantage to both the voters it’s made to serve and the system it’s meant to aid.
  4. Voter Turnout could be low due to the lack of momentum around RCV, especially in communities of color. Without properly reaching and educating these groups that have been historically discriminated against, the system is contributing to the disenfranchisement of black and brown communities and suppressing their voice—an all too familiar narrative that should not and cannot be repeated.

This is not to say that Ranked-Choice Voting shouldn’t someday be implemented and seen as a progressive shift in our democracy. Rather, it is to say that there isn’t enough education currently on this new voting method, which could lead to further complications for those who vote.

The reality is that many voters will simply be turned away if there isn’t adequate information provided and distribution of education administered to them in time. Primaries are already set to have a far less turnout than General Elections, especially in non-major election years, so the chance to lose more voters is not something we can accept.

Without a dramatic movement to educate and prepare all voters, the New York City Board of Elections should untether itself from continuing Ranked-Choice Voting for this upcoming year. This is a monumental change to the way voters use their voice, and how candidates win an election; so it needs to be done right, or not at all.