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Ranked Choice Voting Works

Thank you, New York City!

For the first time, New York City instituted Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in the 2021 primary elections. As a result, the Democratic nominee for Mayor received a majority of votes through an electoral system that essentially delivers an instant runoff without the need to hold a separate election. It was a serious move to improve our elections, delivering fairer, more open and competitive elections by reducing the influence of the major parties and of party machinery.

To ensure the city was prepared to correctly count the ballots – ballots which allowed voters to rank their top five candidates – the NYC Board of Elections ran a test of 130,000 ballots and put them through voting machine computers for tallying. The result was that all ranked votes were counted flawlessly in the test election. 

But New York is New York. Notorious for sloppy election oversight, the city’s Board of Elections then handed party bosses a golden opportunity to defend their dominance of the country’s political system. In its initial release of the election day vote tally, the 130,000 test ballots were mistakenly included in the official published results, igniting an onslaught of misplaced criticism of Ranked Choice Voting.

The overcount mistake clearly had nothing to do with the system of allowing voters to rank the candidates. It was the result of incompetent oversight and administration. But Democratic and Republican officials pounced on the new electoral process, intentionally conflating the Board of Election’s counting error with the process of Ranked Choice Voting elections in a brazen attempt to return to traditional voting conventions in the future. 

A second false argument was raised against Ranked Choice Voting, claiming the RCV process caused the counting of the ballots to take way too long – it took two weeks to declare Eric Adams the apparent winner. The duopoly defenders blamed the complexity of counting RCV ballots for the delayed result. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the quick processing of the 130,000 test ballots proved. The delay was again due to the maladministration of the New York City Board of Elections. Like many other states, New York City doesn’t open mail-in ballots until election day. Counting mail-in ballots is slower than counting in-person voting as the envelopes have to be inspected, signatures compared and careful management of the counting process must be in place. The slow counting of mail-in votes in New York City is exactly the same with Ranked Choice Voting as it is with conventional voting systems. 

Ranked Choice Voting is one of the most effective ways to open up elections and reduce the dominance of the two major parties. It encourages greater participation of voters and candidates, empowering greater diversity of thought and creating greater consensus of representation. Don’t be fooled by the false arguments of those trying to protect the grip of the major parties on our elections. Americans who are seeking fairer and more competitive elections must fight back against these attempts and must work to expand RCV to more jurisdictions across the country.

Michael Willner is a board member of SAM and the Chairman and CEO of Penthera Partners.

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