Runoffs for Some But Not For Others?
September 24th, 2009
This post was written by DeNora Getachew, director of public policy and legislative counsel for Citizens Union Foundation, which publishes Gotham Gazette.
As New York City Democratic voters get ready to vote in the upcoming runoff election on Sept. 29 for their party’s nominees for comptroller and public advocate, you may be thinking, why do I have to vote again only in these two citywide races?
As is often the case, the answer to such questions can be found by consulting the law. Specifically, New York’s election law requires a runoff “when no candidate for the office of mayor, public advocate or comptroller receives 40 percent or more of the votes cast by the members of a political party for such office in a city-wide primary election.” This law dates back to the early 1970s, after the 1969 election for mayor when a candidate who was considered outside of the mainstream won the Democratic primary with only 33 percent of the vote. The change to require a runoff election if no citywide candidate secures 40 percent of the vote was intended to prevent fringe or less mainstream candidates in a multi-candidate race from winning an election without necessarily proving broad-based support.
In the Sept, 15 primary election, according to preliminary primary election results, Comptroller William Thompson Jr. received 70 percent of the vote, surpassing the 40 percent runoff trigger. But the other races were much closer with Councilmember John Liu securing 37.84 percent and Councilmember David Yassky receiving 30.9 percent for comptroller. For public advocate, Councilmember Bill de Blasio got 32.56 percent and former Public Advocate Mark Green garnered 31.48 percent of the vote, according to recent totals announced by Marcus Cederquist, executive director of the city Board of Elections (final results are expected to be certified today).
Hence New Yorkers have to go back to the polls next Tuesday to re-decide who they want to occupy these two citywide posts. It should be noted that this small act of redoing the election to determine the Democratic nominee is expected to cost the city’s taxpayers a cool $14.4 million, including additional public campaign finance matching funds for all four candidates participating in the runoff election.
Query whether the cost of conducting a runoff election is worth the effort, especially in a down economy when a proposal like instant runoff voting, advocated for by groups like FairVote would more-easily solve the problem. (An interesting factoid for wonks: The Motion Picture Academy will use instant runoff voting in 2010 to award the Academy Award for “Best Picture.) Instant runoff voting allows people who go to the polls on Election Day to rank the candidates in their order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority vote, then a series of runoffs are simulated using each voter’s preferences as indicated on the initial ballot. This eliminates a return trip to the poll, saving the taxpayers money that can go toward other much-needed city services.
At the council level, based on the uncertified, preliminary election returns there could be about 10 races that would merit a runoff. So, on the upside, when voters think about going to vote on Sept. 29 in these runoff elections, they should be happy that state law only requires a runoff in citywide elections.By Gail Robinson on September 24, 2009, 10:23 am
In category: Electoral Politics, Gotham City, Governing | 3 Comments »