Gotham Gazette Mon, 30 Nov 2020 23:13:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New Machines May Help With Early Voting But Advocates Say They Could Undermine Ranked-Choice Voting 30787897328 6a3c4da1ba c

Ranked-choice voting will be implemented for the first time next year (Michael Appleton/Mayor's office)

The New York State Board of Elections is continuing the process of certifying new voting machines sought by New York City elections administrators to improve the city's early voting system. But, while those machines could help the city take a step toward county-wide early voting centers – which many early voting supporters are pushing for – voting reform advocates say they may not be viable for ranked-choice voting, which will be implemented for the first time in the city next year. 

Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, lets a voter rank up to five candidates by preference, so that if no candidate wins a majority of votes, the last-place candidate's ballots are redistributed based on their voters' second choices, a process repeated until a winner emerges with 50% of the vote. RCV, which will only be in effect for special elections and party primary elections (not general elections) for New York City government positions, helps avoid costly and labor-intensive runoffs, which often see exceedinly low voter turnout. New Yorkers approved the change by ballot referendum last year to go into effect in 2021, when several City Council special elections as early as February could be the first RCV contests.

A document obtained by Gotham Gazette indicates the New York City Board of Elections believes its current voting machines will work for RCV in 2021, and is taking the necessary steps to upgrade their software. However, one leader of the State Board of Elections, which has to approve technology used by local boards, says no attempt to certify new software has been made.

In a report sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council on July 1, the BOE said that as early as June 2019, the board's voting machine vendor, Election Systems & Software, confirmed that "the current hardware and firmware utilized to conduct elections in the City of New York and as certified by the New York State Board of Elections 'has the ability to layout a ballot that will accommodate RCV.'" New York City's current machines, the DS200 optical scanners, are designed to receive a handmarked paper ballot, while the new machines, Express Vote XL, are combined voting-and-tabulation machines that use a touch screen and have greater memory to store multiple ballot designs.

The BOE's executive director, Michael Ryan, came under criticism in 2018 for his affiliation with ES&S, particularly his undisclosed participation in an advisory board of the company, which paid for Ryan to take trips to conferences around the United States. Ryan has denied any conflicts of interest with ES&S and stepped down from the advisory board after it was first reported by NY1.

In March 2019, in a letter to the State BOE, reported again by NY1, Ryan asked to be able to use the new Express Vote XL machine from ES&S before it had been certified for use, but the request was denied. Ryan said the new machine, with its great memory capacity, could store more ballot styles and thus accommodate voters from a wider swath of election districts – a necessary hurdle to overcome if the city is going to set up county-wide early voting centers sought by advocates.

When it looked like the Express Vote XL was nearing certification by the State Board in January, good government groups and elected officials raised alarms about its history of inaccuracy, including an election in Pennsylvania where the machines failed to count 26,000 votes. Critics said the machines would also be costly and could damage confidence in the new RCV system during its first year if they failed.

"The ExpressVote XL has never been used in a Ranked Choice Voting election," read a January letter from good government group Common Cause NY and current and former public officials, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and former CCRB Chair and Counsel to Mayor de Blasio, Maya Wiley, who is exploring a run for mayor in 2021. "The largest New York City election cycle in recent history, with wide open races for Mayor, Comptroller, four Borough Presidents, and 35 City Council seats, is no place for a trial run with a machine that has failed in other jurisdictions."

A spokesperson for ES&S said the Express Vote XL is compatible with RCV without a software upgrade and has a good track record.

With the latest confirmation that the current machines can work with a software update, advocates are enjoying a moment of relief. "This is what we have said all along that New York City has the voting machines it needs to implement ranked-choice voting in 2021, which is great news," Common Cause's deputy director, Sarah Goff, told Gotham Gazette. "That means that there will be no additional costs to the taxpayer in this regard."

The city BOE can get the required tabulation software upgrade from ES&S or through the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, she said ("Both are great options"), "and that is the only infrastructure upgrade that we'll need to scan, count, and tabulate votes in New York City."

The RCV report states that the city BOE will use vendor-provided software and "has communicated with the State Board for a determination whether State Board vendor approval and/or certification of software is required." But Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the State Board, denied his agency had received any such communication. "If the DS200 requires a software update that requires certification and as far as I know that software update has not been submitted to the state board for certification or for a determination that it's not subject to certification," Kellner said by phone, referring to the current machines used by the city board.

The New York City Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

While acknowledging the immense challenge of administering elections during a pandemic, advocates looking ahead to ranked-choice voting in 2021 are worried that the city BOE is not moving quickly or deliberately enough to have the new format in place and ready for voters.

Meanwhile, the Express Vote XL certification process is still ongoing. "There have been some issues that arose during the testing process and we're still at least a couple of months away from a final certification report, assuming that there are no new issues," Kellner said.

At a certain point, the city may need to adopt new, larger machines if it is going to allow county-wide polling centers, which many of the same RCV advocates have been pushing for. But that does not need to happen all at once, especially before the RCV roll-out and while the current machines still work, advocates say.

"The DS200s, I believe have a shelf life of ten to fifteen years," Goff said, which she said was a few years away. "So some kind of new voting machine would need to happen."

"We've obviously taken the public position that it should definitely not be the ExpressVote XL," she added, "but that is a decision that will have to be made in the next few years."

Kellner said the city board can be "overly reliant on ES&S on how to address the problem."

"It is very easy to become dependent upon a vendor for solutions to issues that really should be addressed in-house, because it's easier," he said. "It's easier to just pick up the phone and say, 'Can you guys do it for us and we'll pay you for it?"

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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New Machines May Help With Early Voting But Advocates Say They Could Undermine Ranked-Choice Voting Mon, 31 Aug 2020 02:02:55 +0000
Board of Elections Presents Plan for 2021 Implementation of Ranked-Choice Voting 47220286761 129e1c6c19 c

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's office)

The New York City Board of Elections last week delivered a City Charter-mandated report to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council on how it will implement a new voting method, known as ranked-choice voting (RCV), in the 2021 municipal elections, when all of city government will be on the ballot.

The report, which was submitted June 30 and obtained by Gotham Gazette, shows few procedural and operational changes to casting and counting ballots, possibly indicating a light lift for elections administrators ahead of the changes next year. But at least one government watchdog is concerned that the report's lack of detail and deadlines bodes poorly for the rollout of ranked-choice voting, especially given the difficulties voters experienced casting absentee ballots this summer.

"We recognize that the New York City Board of Elections is under a great deal of strain, but the lack of detail in this report is pretty concerning," said Tom Speaker, a spokesperson for the good government group Reinvent Albany, by phone. "The Charter calls for a plan for achieving the timely implementation of ranked choice voting, and in the report there is almost nothing about timing or about deadlines or about benchmarks."

Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, was approved by New York City voters last fall after being placed on the ballot by a Charter Revision Commission. The commission was created through legislation by the City Council and included appointees of the Council speaker, mayor, comptroller, public advocate, and the five borough presidents. The system of ranked-choice voting that was proposed to voters and approved is only for special elecitons and party primary elections, not general elections, and only applies to New York City government positions.

Modeled on systems used in a handful of cities throughout the United States, RCV allows voters to select more than one candidate, ranking them by order of preference. If no candidate has a majority of first-choice votes in the initial counting, the candidate with the fewest is eliminated and their ballots are redistributed according to the voter's second preference, a process that then continues until a winner crosses the 50% threshold.

Proponents of RCV say it will eliminate the need for expensive and poorly-attended runoff elections and would neutralize so-called "spoiler" candidates, those who have a low chance of winning but who sap votes from more viable candidates.

The 2021 elections for city office will include contests for mayor, comptroller, and public advocate, as well as borough presidents, and dozens of open City Council seats, all of which will be conducted by ranked-choice voting (again, only in special and primary elections, not the general election). With the first instance of ranked-choice voting likely taking place in a special election in as little as six months and an expected 500 candidates running in the primaries next year, Speaker says the lack of planning is especially concerning.

While the report notes that the layout of the ballot will change to reflect the ranking system, it details few other changes to the experience of voters and administrators on election day. Voters at their polling location will still be handed a ballot sheet to mark by hand and will feed them, completed, into the same scanning machines.

Though the existing ballot-scanning machines can accommodate RCV, they require software updates to run the counting algorithm. That may need approval from the State Board of Elections, which the report says the city board is seeking clarity on. Even if the software doesn't require state approval, the New York City Board of Elections must still go through a public procurement process in accordance with city rules. The report does not specify any timeline for making the determination or for procuring and installing the software.

The plan states that Unofficial Election Night Results will be available as they typically have been (with the exception of the 2020 primary and general elections, which saw an unprecedented number of absentee ballots due to the pandemic). The report makes no contingency plan for potential changes to the absentee rules that would make election night results impossible.

With the "amount of turmoil that can happen between now and whenever the first ranked choice voting is, it's just easy to see how a lot of these steps might actually never be taken," Speaker said, referring to potential waves of coronavirus in the future.

The board does not describe any adjustments to poll worker and ballot canvasser training or what instructions will be provided to voters at poll sites. The board says it plans to undertake a public education campaign "utilizing various traditional media and social media platforms to effectively communicate with voters," but doesn't say what the campaign will entail or what resources it has available to implement it.

"The Board will disseminate the details of the public education plan as same are available," the report reads.

Advocates and elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President and mayoral-hopeful Eric Adams, have been pushing the city Board of Elections since February to undertake a serious public education effort to inform voters on the new voting method. At a February news conference in front of the board's office in Lower Manhattan, Adams, along with Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel of Brooklyn, and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, called for the city to allocate $10 million for the effort.

The board’s report was submitted just one day before the July 1 start of the current fiscal year, and it makes no mention of any budget needs. The city allocated $136 million to the New York City Board of Elections for fiscal year 2021.

Even with the most significant changes appearing relatively simple, like redesigning ballots and installing new software, Reinvent Albany’s Speaker says the devil will be in the details.

"While it might seem there's only a small number of steps required, it seems like the BOE could really benefit from more staff and more efforts dedicated to public information especially," he told Gotham Gazette, "because what we've seen in other municipalities who have adopted RCV, is that it fails the most when there is not a robust public education campaign around it."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Board of Elections Presents Plan for 2021 Implementation of Ranked-Choice Voting Fri, 28 Aug 2020 11:53:49 +0000
Push Is On for 10 Bills to Strengthen Absentee Voting and More Ahead of Fall Election boe nyc votes table pandemic

Voting during a pandemic (photo: @NYCVotes)

Ahead of a special state legislative session set for next week, a coalition of election reform advocates is backing ten bills that would change or codify elements of the now widely-used absentee voting process before the fall general election.

The agenda, released Thursday by the Let NY Vote coalition, comes amid party primary elections where the voting is over but the counting is ongoing after for the first time nearly every registered voter in the state was made eligible for an absentee ballot. The pandemic-induced move by Governor Andrew Cuomo caught local boards of elections unprepared and revealed some significant weaknesses in the absentee voting system, which appear to be leading to many thousands of voters who tried to cast ballots either not being able to or having their attempted vote invalidated.

The legislative package centers on making law the broader eligibility criteria for absentee voting, the executive order for which has now expired, and putting safeguards in place to prevent mail-in ballots from being thrown out for technical reasons. The bills are being pushed now in anticipation of an even higher demand for absentee ballots in the fall presidential election, where turnout is expected to be immense. Other general election contests, for state Legislature, Congress, and other local seats, will also be on the ballot.

"The June primary election was unprecedented, but democracy does not pause, it adapts," said Susan Lerner, executive director of the good government group Common Cause New York, in a press statement from the coalition, which is comprised of over 175 organizations. "New York lawmakers must prioritize planning for the November election today. The Boards of Elections need ample time to prepare for the Presidential Election to guarantee that all votes count."

"I'm sure there will be lessons to learn, but life is alternatives and I don't know that we had a better alternative, and I don't know that we're going to have a better alternative in November," Cuomo told reporters Thursday in response to questions about the number of rejected absentee ballots and whether he would again open up absentee voting in the general election.

Cuomo signed the executive order in April expanding the definition of "Temporary Illness," one of the accepted reasons to vote absentee, to include the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19 in the June primaries. Legislation sponsored by State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Michael Blake, two Bronx Democrats, would permanently allow voters to vote absentee if there is "a risk of contracting or spreading a disease," effectively applying the governor's measure to the general election and beyond, as long as the public health emergency continues.

"The governor's executive orders to expand absentee ballot voting are band-aid solutions," Biaggi said in an interview. "By codifying the expansion of absentee ballot voting, we can provide indisputable clarity now on how New Yorkers can safely access the ballot box in November, and give the Board of Elections the time they need to properly prepare for elections throughout the course of this pandemic."

Across the five boroughs, close to 400,000 voters requested, received, and returned absentee ballots to the New York City Board of Elections in the June primaries. But thousands of ballots were rejected on technicalities, like failing to properly sign or date the ballot envelope or including additional markings on the ballot. Some yet to be determined number of ballots received by election administrators was invalidated because they were not postmarked. Some voters did not even receive their requested ballots by the voting deadline.

A number of the bills supported by the Let NY Vote coalition aim to address or correct these issues. One would ensure absentee ballots are counted when there are markings on the ballot as long as the intent of the voter is clear. Another would require election administrators to make a "good faith effort" to contact a voter if their ballot is received unsealed or partially sealed with tape or glue -- if the voter can certify in writing that they sent the ballot in that condition it will be counted. Both bills are sponsored by Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Westchester Assemblymember Amy Paulin, both Democrats.

Two other bills, also carried by Myrie, who chairs the Senate's elections committee, would give voters an opportunity to correct their absentee ballot if it has been challenged and would require the ballots to be counted even without a postmark. Both bills lack a companion in the Assembly, which is necessary for passage.

Other bills in the package are aimed at increasing access to the ballot box, in-person or by mail.

One, sponsored by Senator James Sanders, a Queens Democrat, and Assemblmember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat, would require boards of elections to include a pre-paid return envelope with absentee ballots, which are not currently provided in every county, according to Let NY Vote.

"We do not charge a price to vote at a polling place and voting absentee shouldn't cost the voter either," reads a memo from Sanders accompanying the bill. Lawmakers have not determined the fiscal impact of the provision, according to the memo.

Dinowitz is also the prime sponsor of legislation that would require SUNY and CUNY to provide information to students on voting absentee, including links to absentee ballot applications, in addition to the voter registration information already required. The bill, which is sponsored in the State Senate by Manhattan Democrat Brian Benjamin, also modified language of the existing law to make it easier for the public university systems to comply.

Myrie and Blake are carrying another voter registration bill that would let eligible New York City residents register through an online portal run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The provision would sunset when the state Board of Elections opens its own online portal, expected in 2022.

"Our communities deserve legislation that meet our needs as we continue to navigate the Covid crisis by making voter registration more accessible, guaranteeing access to absentee ballots and protecting our votes," wrote Marcela Barrientos, Interim Executive Director at New York Civic Engagement Table, a coalition member, in a statement.

Some of the bills in the legislative package will not place an additional burden on administrators because they simply deal with how ballots will be counted. But others, like the mandates that local boards of elections contact voters whose ballots have been challenged, will require entirely new processes to be established.

The coalition-backed legislation with perhaps the heaviest impact on election boards is a bill to increase the number of early voting locations required in each county from seven to ten sites, and for larger counties each town and city must have an early poll site. The bill was first introduced last December by Assemblymember Charles Lavine and Senator Anna Kaplan, both Democrats from Long Island, after the state's first election with early voting.

When early voting was being debated and even after it became law in New York, local boards of elections raised alarms about the costs associated with operating multiple poll sites over several days.

A spokesperson for the New York City Board of Elections said the agency had "no comment" on any of the bills in the Let NY Vote agenda. The New York State Board of Elections, a regulatory and oversight body, did not return a request for comment.

"We made history last year by making voting more convenient and accessible for Long Islanders and all New Yorkers, but we recognize that there's still more that needs to be done to ensure that everyone can have their voice heard at the voting booth without unnecessary barriers," Kaplan wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

The Kaplan-Lavine early voting bill has already passed the State Senate and is in committee in the Assembly. On Wednesday, the Assembly Elections Committee advanced a separate bill requiring at least one early voting site in a county's largest population center, a measure that passed in the Senate in January, Lavine told Gotham Gazette.

Of his own bill, he said the Assembly is considering it and "I am confident that it will be passed at some point."

Separately, Assemblymember Dan Quart and State Senator Brad Hoylman, both Manhattan Democrats, have a bill to require a system wherein voters can track their absentee ballots, among other provisions. "It's time for New York to conform to the absentee ballot standards in other states," Hoylman recently told Gotham Gazette.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Push Is On for 10 Bills to Strengthen Absentee Voting and More Ahead of Fall Election Thu, 16 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Board of Elections Misses Deadline for Planning Ranked-Choice Voting Implementation voting in new york city ballot RCV story

Ranked-choice voting is coming soon (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Board of Elections missed a City Charter-mandated June 1 deadline to issue a report on how it will implement the new voter-approved ranked-choice voting system in 2021, advocates and elected officials said Friday.

At a press conference hosted by good government group Common Cause New York, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the report is essential to adequately prepare for the new voting format next year and called on the Board of Elections (BOE) to release it immediately.

Ranked-choice voting, which will only apply to party primary and special elections for city government positions, allows voters to select multiple names on the ballot in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. If no candidate initially receives more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and their ballots redistributed based on their voters’ second choices, and so on until one candidate has a majority.

Voters approved the measure in a referendum last November. It takes effect for elections beginning in 2021 and requires the BOE to submit a report to the Mayor and City Council Speaker "containing a plan for achieving timely implementation of ranked choice voting" by June 1 of this year.

Supporters of the reform say it will force candidates to try to appeal to a wider political base and eliminate the need for expensive run-off elections, which tend to have minimal turn out. But successful implementation will be challenging and significant voter education will be necessary, advocates and elected officials have repeatedly pointed out.

"The deadline is crucial in order to make sure that the Board can purchase the necessary upgrades to the existing voting machines for ranked-choice voting," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

New York City began using ballot-on-demand printers and electronic poll books on a large-scale as part of rolling out early voting last year. The technology purchased by city elections administrators is supposed to be compatible with a ranked-choice format but, along with optical ballot scanners, requires software upgrades that must be certified with the state elections board before 2021 elections.

That certification process usually takes around six months, Lerner said, and the first city elections of 2021 could be special elections early in the year, followed by the regularly-scheduled June primaries for dozens of seats across city government.

A spokesperson for the City Council confirmed it has not received a report. "The Council will not tolerate delayed implementation of ranked choice voting and we demand the BOE meet the deadlines every step of the way in this process," the spokesperson wrote in an email. The mayor's office did not respond to inquiries about the report.

Under the New York City Charter, if the board fails to submit the implementation report within 30 days of the deadline it will "create a rebuttable presumption that such board is declining to implement ranked choice voting as required by this section."

"Once again the barrier to democracy is our own board of elections because they dropped the ball again," said Stringer, who is running for mayor in 2021. "Someone should just get that report done now, so we don't have problems later on."

Next year will be the busiest city election cycle in at least eight years, with mayor, comptroller, four borough presidents, and dozens of City Council seats “open” due to term limits (meaning no incumbent is running). The public advocate, Queens borough president, and about 16 other Council seats are also up for election, though with incumbents likely running, and the city's Campaign Finance Board estimates roughly 500 candidates total will be seeking office in 2021.

There could be special elections called as early as March, depending on the outcome of ongoing 2020 races for Queens Borough President and Congressional District 15 in the Bronx, where current City Council members are frontrunners. A special election is called when an elected office is vacated mid-term.

Common Cause, along with Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters of New York City, and Citizens Union, sent a letter Friday to BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan and his deputy, Dawn Sandow, urging them to release a report. "We acknowledge the additional burden of operating in this new environment, but as we've seen the NYC BOE adapt to the COVID crisis, we remain confident the Board is up to the task," the letter reads.

The BOE is frequently criticized for administrative blunders that lead to arduous experiences at the polls and in some cases disenfranchise voters. The risk increases when administrators are rolling out new and untried elements. An extreme example has been this month’s primaries, where pandemic-induced changes to the rules governing absentee voting meant an unprecedented number of voters sought the option. There have been widespread reports that many voters did not receive their ballots in the mail in time to cast them, as well as poll-site operation issues of the more perennial variety.

"There is no time to waste. We got to make sure that our candidates know the rules and that our voters are educated," Stringer said, noting that effort must begin with the implementation report.

"I know that we are in the middle of a cascade of crises," said Brewer, including the coronavirus pandemic, protests for racial justice, and a major economic downturn. "But equally important is voting and voting the way voters want to vote." The referendum establishing the new voting system was approved with nearly 75 percent of the vote but in an "off-year" election with relatively low turnout.

"I have to say to me it's frightening because what it says is, 'we are not ready,'" she said.

The BOE did not respond to requests for comment.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Board of Elections Misses Deadline for Planning Ranked-Choice Voting Implementation Fri, 26 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Questions and Concerns About Potential Shift to Vote-By-Mail as New Yorkers Await Further Action from Cuomo 1 good advo

Voting in New York is undergoing major shifts, with more possibly to come (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Amid reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to allow or require voting by mail for all New Yorkers in primary and special elections set for June 23, government reform advocates have raised concerns that the measure could end up adversely affecting the election, while the State Republican Party has promised to sue if the governor follows through.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced several delays in the state’s election calendar and in-person voting may continue to be a risky endeavor in June when the state holds primaries for all the seats in the state legislature and House of Representatives, and possibly for the Democratic presidential nomination, as well as a handful of special elections. In lieu of that, according to a NY1 report on Monday that the governor’s office refuses to confirm or deny, Cuomo is expected to sign an executive order mandating that local Boards of Elections mail out ballots to all registered voters.

Such a measure by the governor would, in theory, help New Yorkers avoid the risk of exposure to the coronavirus while still exercising their right to vote. But with no details yet about the executive order, government reform advocates are anxious that the order could do more harm than good. Asked about the NY1 report, Cuomo spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said only, “We're looking at all options​.”

Cuomo had previously issued an order expanding absentee voting to all who decided to request such a ballot over fears of the virus and in-person voting.

Among the concerns from advocates about the possibility of full-on vote-by-mail are that the local BOEs may only mail ballots to active voters registered with political parties in the state, and miss the more than 970,000 ‘inactive’ voters who are nonetheless registered to vote with party affiliation. (In total, counting voters with no party affiliation, there are 11.7 million active and 1.2 million inactive voters in New York.) Mailed ballots would not make special accomodations for the visually impaired or be an effective substitute for translation services at poll sites. The ballots may also fail to reach the mass of New York residents who have chosen to shelter outside the state or populations like college students who are now living at home.

“We would love to be able to move to a vote-by-mail system in New York, but there are very significant obstacles to a wholesale transition,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in a virtual news conference on Wednesday afternoon, insisting the the state should only take the step if it’s done in conjunction with in-person voting. “Unfortunately, jumping to an entire vote-by-mail system in New York state would be setting up our elections for failure.”

A majority of Americans, 58% in fact, support voting by mail, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday amid ongoing questions about what form this year’s presidential and other elections will take. But Lerner pointed out that effective vote-by-mail programs, like the ones used in Washington and Colorado, depend on accurate voter rolls, and that elections administrators in New York have been notoriously bad at maintaining their records. The most high profile example of that is the New York City Board of Elections, which illegally kicked 200,000 Democratic voters off its rolls ahead of the April 2016 presidential primary. Voters are often also improperly placed on inactive status, and the BOE may not send a ballot to those voters, who’ve been labeled ‘inactive’ after they fail to respond to a mailer from the BOE requesting confirmation of their current place of residence.

“If New York hastily Institutes a vote-by-mail system, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and the inactive, over 1 million voters, may never receive a ballot,” Lerner said, calling for an expansion of absentee ballots and doubling the number of early voting days from 9 to 18. The early voting period extends from June 13 to June 21. The city Board of Elections has yet to confirm early voting sites, which it is required to make public 45 days before the election, and there is no information on its website.

The solution is one that the governor has already undertaken, Lerner argued. On April 9, Cuomo signed an executive order that expanded the criteria for requesting an absentee ballot. Voters who are either ill from coronavirus or fear contracting it at the polls can now apply for an absentee ballot.

The New York City Board of Elections is also getting ready to allow voters to for the first time apply for absentee ballots online, according to spokesperson Valerie Vazquez. “The Board is in the final stages of releasing not only an email address to allow voters to send in their application but also an inclusive, user friendly portal that will allow voters to submit their application electronically,” she said in a text message on Monday.

In the news conference led by Common Cause NY, Monica Bartley, community outreach organizer at The Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, pointed out that mailed ballots won’t be available in braille or large print, disenfranchising the visually-impaired. “It would be necessary for the state to provide accessible options for people with disabilities so that we can all vote and not be left out of the process,” she said.

Amy Torres, director of policy and advocacy at the Chinese-American Planning Council, warned against the “false choice between the health of voters and the health of our democracy.” She noted that immigrants with limited English proficiency could be accidentally disenfranchised, and called for “doubling down on the successful reforms like early voting, and expanding options like vote by mail so that our democracy is not only healthy during this time of crisis, but is stronger in the years ahead.”

Just as with immigrants, African-Americans could be particularly impacted in a full vote-by-mail system, said Lurie Favors, general counsel at the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, CUNY. African-American communities have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, she pointed out, and would be hard-pressed to mobilize and educate voters about the changes to the election.

There were also operational concerns. A mail voting system would require the BOE to print and send out millions of pieces of mail, a herculean task for an agency often criticized for its inefficiency and that advocates say is underfunded for its mandate.

Mostly, the experts had questions that have yet to be answered by the governor’s office, but they broadly agreed that it’s too soon to implement voting by mail for the June primary. “Right now, in the middle of the pandemic, New Yorkers do not need to be experimenting with a complete overhaul of their elections against the advice of all experts,” Lerner said.

Torres added, “If advocates are left in the dark on this, it means that even more voters are left in the dark as well.”

The June 23 election day is now just under two months away, with early voting set to kick off even sooner.

The New York Republican Party also shared some of the aforementioned concerns about a potential vote-by-mail program this week, but also worried that it could lead to fraudulent voting, though there is little evidence of that from other states. Nick Langworthy, chair of the New York GOP, said in a statement that such an executive order would be “an illegal and unconstitutional political power grab that will severely undermine the integrity of our elections.”

“Throughout this pandemic, I have worked in good faith with the Governor to make necessary adjustments to our electoral system to protect the safety of New Yorkers, but this executive action crosses a red line,” he added, responding to the NY1 report of Cuomo’s impending action that has still not materialized. “I have been willing to support a system that allows for all New Yorkers to use the threat of coronavirus to vote by absentee ballot, but automatically mailing ballots without proper security measures in place most certainly invites fraud.”

Though he referred to “numerous cases” of problems in a vote-by-mail system, he did not cite any specific examples. He also said he had spoken with elections commissioners across the state who oppose the measure and say it is impossible to conduct a vote-by-mail election, but he did not name them.

Among the issues he noted were ballots arriving late or going to the wrong address, more than one ballot being delivered and bins of ballots that were never delivered – which was apparently the case in the recent Wisconsin primaries where ballots were found after the election at a USPS processing center – and so-called “ballot harvesting'' where an individual collects absentee ballots from several people and delivers them. Collecting a ballot from a voter is not illegal in New York, where someone can be designated for the task by a voter. The only recent example of ballot harvesting fraud was in the 2018 midterms in North Carolina, where it is illegal, and involved a Republican operative who used the tactic to help a Republican congressional candidate.

Langworthy’s concerns echo those of Republicans across the country and even President Donald Trump, who has questioned efforts by several states to expand voting by mail and said it should not be considered for his reelection bid. “Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country, because they're cheaters. They're fraudulent in many cases,” Trump said at a White House briefing after the primary election in Wisconsin, which was held with in-person voting despite the risks from the pandemic, though he did not cite evidence. In March, when Democrats were seeking funding to expand absentee and mail ballots in the federal stimulus package, Trump indicated vehement opposition to it based on politics, rather than principle. “The things they had in there were crazy,” he said in a Fox & Friends interview. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Neither Trump nor Langworthy seemed to take note that members of the military have voted by mail since the Civil War.

Should Governor Cuomo actually sign an executive order to implement the program, Langworthy said his party would file suit. “The ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ mentality has permeated the Governor’s office and Cuomo is using this pandemic as a reason to expand his powers and force his political agenda through,” he said. “If he goes forward with this, we will be prepared to legally challenge it at every level.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Questions and Concerns About Potential Shift to Vote-By-Mail as New Yorkers Await Further Action from Cuomo Thu, 23 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Consequential Questions on Your Ballot Rachel Bloom and Susan Lerner

(photo: @Gothamgazette)

October 23, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Consequential Questions on Your Ballot

rb sl podcastThere are 5 consequential questions on the New York City ballot this fall, each of which poses changes to city elections or governance for "yes" or "no" reponses from voters. Two leading goverment reform experts -- Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY and Rachel Bloom of Citizens Union -- joined the podcast to discuss each of the five ballot questions and whether voters should approve or disapprove them.

(Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. Gotham Gazette does not take positions on ballot referenda or candidates for office.)

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Breaking Down the Consequential Questions on Your Ballot Wed, 23 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Push Launched to Get Voters to Choose Ranked-Choice Voting yesone1 commoncause

(photo: @commoncauseny)

A coalition of elected officials, business and labor leaders, and reform groups gathered Thursday in Lower Manhattan to launch a campaign to convince New York City voters to change the way they elect their representatives in city government.

Voters in New York City this fall will have the opportunity to approve ballot referenda on a number of reforms to the City Charter, including a new election system known as “ranked-choice voting.” The new system would allow voters in primary and special elections -- but not general elections -- to rank up to five candidates on the ballot rather than choosing just one, which advocates say will force candidates to reach a larger base, eliminate so-called “spoiler” candidates, ensure winners have a broad mandate, and save the city millions in costly runoff elections.

The coalition, Rank the Vote, which formed to promote the new voting method, held a press conference on the steps of Federal Hall Thursday morning, just over six weeks from this year’s Election Day, which is Tuesday, November 5. Speakers discussed the possibility of overhauling city elections and what they believe is the importance of voting yes on the ranked-choice voting ballot referendum, which will be the first of the five charter revision questions on the ballot.

“Ranked-choice voting is a system that will help voters choose the candidate who has the broadest base of support, because all too frequently what we find is that the winner in these crowded fields is chosen with much less than a 50 percent majority,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York, as she kicked off the press conference. “It’s not as healthy for our democracy as it needs to be.”

Ranked-choice voting is in effect in a few cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Santa Fe, and Maine is projected to use the method in the upcoming presidential elections. Under a ranked-choice voting system, voters choose candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the first count, the candidate with the least support is eliminated and ballots for them are redistributed to their voters’ second choices. That process is continued until a candidate crosses the threshold need to win the seat.

The proposal before New Yorkers this year allows voters to rank up to five candidates in primary and special elections, and requires the winner to receive more than 50 percent of votes. Democratic primaries in New York City can be especially crowded, with citywide elections prone to possible run-offs between the top two candidates if neither reaches 40 percent initially, and down-ballot races won by candidates with relatively small pluralities.

The referendum is one of 19 placed on the ballot in five yes or no questions by the city’s 2019 Charter Revision Commission. The body -- with representatives appointed by the mayor, City Council, public advocate, city comptroller, and five borough presidents -- was responsible for examining the entire City Charter and putting amendments on the ballot to be voted on by the electorate.

Speaking Thursday morning were players from across the city’s political spectrum, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, and Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, which represents the city’s business community. Also speaking were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute, and Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School.

Assembly Member Ron Kim and Council Member Brad Lander made remarks, as did representatives from New Kings Democrats, Amplify Her, and New York Communities for Change. Labor unions like RWDSU and CWA, and good government groups like Citizens Union and Lerner’s Common Cause NY are also members of the coalition.

Ranked-choice voting, also known as “instant-runoff voting,” would replace the current voting system in city primary and special elections, which for citywide elections requires candidates to win 40 percent of the vote; if no candidate reaches the 40 percent threshold a runoff election is triggered -- a separate election in which only the highest two vote-earning candidates face off again.

“As someone who ran for Citywide office and participated in a runoff election, I know from personal experience that Ranked Choice Voting is necessary for New York,” said Betsy Gotbaum, the former public advocate and currently executive director of Citizens Union, in a statement. “Ranked Choice Voting will foster more positive, issue-focused campaigns, give voters more choice, ensure that elected officials are accountable to a broader spectrum of their constituents and avoid costly, time consuming and unnecessary runoff elections.”

The advocates say ranked-choice voting strengthens the concept of majority rule by ensuring the winner is receives more than 50 percent of the vote and requiring candidates to seek support beyond their base.

Brewer said it is important in a city as diverse as New York for voters to be able to express a range of choices in multifaceted campaigns. “If you’re running city-wide, you don’t just go to ten got to go to all the districts, you have to talk to everyone, you got to have a conversation,” she said.

“I am tired of people winning with 28 percent of the vote,” said Lewis, likely referencing borough president and City Council races, where there are no runoffs and candidates often win all-important Democratic primaries with low percentages in crowded races.

Supporters also say ranked-choice voting encourages turnout and can help "minority candidates" win. Alice Nascimento spoke for New York Communities for Change, which organizes low- and moderate-income families for political action. “When we talk to them about voting a number of times they say my vote doesn’t matter, there are too many candidates,” she said, referring to the constituents she works with.

The city Campaign Finance Board anticipates an astounding 500 candidates to be running for city office in 2021, when most City Council seats, four of five borough president positions, and two of three citywide positions, including mayor, will be wide open due to term limits. Because many of those races are likely to have several candidates, it’s likely that no candidate will receive more than 40 percent of vote in many races.

“Nobody’s going to know all of those candidates, and we really have to put the burden on candidates to get out beyond their core, base group and get to know what the issues are for the broader constituency,” said Wylde of the Partnership for New York City.

“And business issues aren’t frankly being very well represented these days, and we think this is a shot at getting them better represented in the public dialogue,” she added.

New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country and that is likely to be worse in the “off-year” elections of 2019, when only two major races are taking place (a public advocate special election and the Queens district attorney election). This means few New Yorkers are likely to turn out to decide the charter revision proposals.

Asked whether fundamental voting methods should be decided by a small fraction of eligible voters, Council Member Lander acknowledged the scenario was not ideal, but that passing ranked-choice voting by referendum in 2019 is the best option the city has.

“I’m confident this would win in a high turnout election. Charter revision commissions are timed when they are timed, so we have to move forward now,” Lander told Gotham Gazette after the press conference.

“And the charter revision process was very inclusive of a lot of people. Lots of communities, I think, were consulted in it and really had an active voice,” added Cynthia Richie Terrell, executive director of Represent Women.

Questions remain about how the public will be informed about the changes to city elections, should ranked-choice voting be approved this fall. “There’s going to be a learning curve...It’s very difficult. We have to find more creative ways, obviously, to get the information out. Those creative ways also cost money,” Public Advocate Williams told Gotham Gazette.

The city Board of Elections has been criticized for the low level of voter education and public engagement it has undertaken in the past. “Hopefully when people get to Election Day they’ll be given better instructions than they’ve been given in the past about what’s going on. But I think we’ll learn together and with any new system, the more we use it the more people are going to get used to it,” Williams said.

Lerner, speaking on behalf of Rank the Vote, which has a 501(c)4 registered with the Board of Elections for political activity, told Gotham Gazette, “There is confidence in a broad coalition of New Yorkers -- civic organizations, labor unions, engaged citizens -- who are going to take the message out.”

“If the voters adopt this we will absolutely be working with the city, with the board, but we are not going to rely just on the Board of Elections,” she added.

Ranked-choice voting will be part of the first question on the ballot this fall. Voters will be able to weigh-in during the nine-day early voting period from October 26 to November 3, or on Election Day, November 5.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Push Launched to Get Voters to Choose Ranked-Choice Voting Thu, 19 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York's Election Administration Accountability Vacuum - Part I: 'Bad Choices at Every Step' joint comm hearing regarding issues

NYC BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

After each election cycle, New York elected officials, government insiders, and interested members of the press and public gather at City Hall and in other hearing rooms for a bit of political theater. The protagonist is the electorate, or the democratic process, itself; the one cast as villain is Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, who is there to respond to questions about how voting went that year.

“Mr. Ryan, do you apologize to the public for what happened on Election Day?” asked City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in the opening question of an oversight hearing following the calamitous midterm elections this past November.

Ryan has been responsible for election administration in the city since August 2013, when he was selected to replace former executive director George Gonzalez. Gonzalez had been fired three years earlier after a botched general election in 2010 and the position had been left vacant. In the six years since Ryan’s appointment, elections have been plagued by poorly trained staff and failing machinery. Confusing ballot design and limited translation services have added to the frustration many voters experience trying to access the polls.

Responding to Johnson, Ryan went along with the apology, a tack he often takes when he’s not defending his agency’s work. "Yes we do,” he said. “We want what you all want and what the voters want: an ease of experience."

While he occasionally testifies at the City Council or the State Legislature, mostly acting as a punching bag for venting politicos, Ryan gets his authority through an irregular -- explicitly partisan -- process in New York State, which allows his agency to avoid a high degree of public accountability. The structure has been criticized for creating a system of election administration that is resistant to modernization and favors the type of political patronage characteristic of machine party politics. Experts say the patronage causes extensive inefficiency throughout what should be a coherent 21st century election system.

“The problem is operational. The BOE’s technical capacity and its inefficiency does have consequences for the integrity, fairness, and the equity of the election process,” said Ester Fuchs, director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at Columbia University, in an interview.

As executive director, Ryan really only answers to the ten commissioners of the New York City Board of Elections. They hired him, and only they can fire him. Amid the 2018 Election Day snafus, Johnson called for Ryan’s resignation, but he still has the job.

A Creature of State Law
The New York City Board of Elections is governed by state law, which gives power to the City Council to appoint commissioners, but the Council must make the appointments from lists selected by political party leaders at the county level. A balance of five Democratic and five Republican commissioners is supposed to add checks within the system, but critics say it serves more to protect incumbents from challengers.

Ryan and the agency he manages are still the subject of scrutiny by the City Council at oversight hearings, but are ultimately controlled by the Democratic and Republican party organizations in each county (borough). Though the city BOE receives most of its funding from city government, its policies are largely based on state law, state Board of Elections guidance, and its own commissioners’ decisions. It generally has not responded to the law-making power of the City Council, nor the directives of the Mayor.

The State Board of Elections, which also has a bipartisan structure, functions as an elections and campaign finance oversight body, unlike the city board. The state BOE sets certain rules and regulations that local boards, including New York City’s, must follow.

Good government advocates say the structures of the city and state boards of election make major-party collusion possible, transparency elusive, and efficiency second to party loyalty.

“Every step along the way the board makes bad choices and they are never held accountable for it,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause New York, in testimony at the City Council oversight hearing on last year’s elections. She was talking about the board’s decisions around ballot design and staff training, which advocates have sought to influence and improve upon for years without success.

Running Elections, Poorly
The city Board of Elections is responsible for carrying out all the administrative functions of running elections across the five boroughs. In reality, it is a decentralized operation in which the executives of the city board oversee five borough boards with few direct management controls.

“Each one of the borough boards operates a little fiefdom and they do what they do,” Lerner said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Local patronage dictates hiring practices all the way down to the part-time poll workers, often chosen by party district leaders, who do not have to pass a civil service exam like other professionals in city government.

The board is responsible for arranging the sites where elections are held, ensuring proper equipment and staffing are present, registering voters, certifying the contents of the ballot, and securing, validating, and counting them after an election. This requires an immense amount of recruitment and training, machine testing, and government contracting, much of which must be done according to guidelines outlined in state law and regulations.

Voters in the November elections -- which included congressional, state legislative, and statewide races -- turned out in modern record numbers across the five boroughs, overwhelming poll sites and ballot scanners, and causing lines out into the rain. Ryan admitted at the hearing that the board was unprepared for the number of voters, despite the high turnout in the primaries that preceded the general election and the overall atmosphere of heightened political engagement in the Trump era.

Turnout in 2018 was still lower than in a presidential year. There were similar problems in 2016 and many are worried about the upcoming 2020 elections, for which turnout is expected to be enormous. New reforms like early voting and electronic poll books offer the potential to ease the burden on the board and those administering elections, but could also lead to new hurdles.

Other problems, like the way the 2018 ballots were designed and how well each poll site was staffed, also contributed to the debacle.

The unusual two-page, perforated ballot used to accommodate three additional ballot questions where confusing to voters and jammed scanners frequently, especially after getting damp from the rain. The average time a scanner broke down was roughly 53 minutes while poll site coordinators waited for a limited number of available technicians per borough. At some poll sites, all scanners were down at once.

Critics including Johnson, Lerner, and others at the Council hearing, wondered why the BOE had not taken greater steps to test scanners and train staff in handling the new ballot format, and why they would not allow translators of certain languages at the polls.

Reformers in and out of city government have for decades been pushing for changes to address election administration failures, which make voting difficult, discourage turnout, and can even disenfranchise voters.

Election after election, they seek improvements like more interpreters at poll sites, better voter outreach, professional staffing, and a less paper-based system while maintaining security. But advocates often face resistance or inaction and have virtually no recourse to the commissioners or the party leaders who pick them. The line of accountability is blurred, with only a distant state law to ultimately point to.

“Mr. Speaker, we have to work to re-earn your trust and I appreciate that,” Ryan said, addressing Johnson at the oversight hearing in November. As is typical at these hearings, no elections commissioners spoke that day. Ryan took the punches, even as he discussed what was beyond his authority.

The Two-Party Split
Many of the board’s problems can be traced to its bipartisan structure -- the two-party split that is built into its operations. The partisan balance is the result of reforms made over a century ago to create a system of checks and balances within the election process, but experts say it no longer works.

“This is a vestige of the most well-regarded thinking about preventing fraud in the late 19th century. There was no such thing as a nonpartisan approach back then,” Lerner told Gotham Gazette.

Controlling election administration had a great deal to do with controlling the outcomes. Following intense public debate around the turn of the last century, the state passed reforms based on the idea that the two major parties “would watch each other and make the election system honest,” according to Gerald Benjamin, director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.

Each county has a bipartisan board of elections with commissioners representing the two major political parties, as mandated in the state constitution. According to state election law, each county board must have an equal number of commissioners -- one, or in some cases two -- from each of the two parties earning the highest votes; New York City’s five counties fall into one citywide board with 10 commissioners -- one Republican and one Democrat chosen from the party leaders in each of the five boroughs.

“The partisan dimension is what keeps it equal,” Brooklyn Democratic Party leader Frank Seddio said in an interview. “For every Democratic worker in the Board of Elections there is a Republican worker in the Board of Elections, which balances the actions of the board, so to speak.”

It has also had the effect of entrenching the established party organizations, and creates the prospect of them “collaborating to the disadvantage of insurgencies in either of the parties,” according to Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz.

Changing the bipartisan structure in the state constitution is an arduous process that would require the Legislature to pass an amendment in two consecutive sessions and for voters to approve it. Many legislators also hold leadership positions in the county party organizations that select elections commissioners under the current system.

“Corruption is a lesser problem than collusion. The majority of the Board of Elections is needed to act. Since there are two commissioners, that means they both have to agree,” Benjamin said, referring to a typical county board, which has two commissioners (as is the case for each borough in New York City). Benjamin was an elected member of the Ulster County Legislature during the 1980s and early ‘90s, and said he received selections from county party leaders from which to appoint elections commissioners.

“Any one commissioner can block an action. If somebody complains about something or there’s an appeal to the board, they can get together and say, ‘You back me on this one, I’ll back you on that one.’ That kind of thing happens all the time,” he said.

"The idea that the Democrat and the Republican would collude against the voter has never occurred to anybody," Lerner said, "but that’s what we’re seeing."

This is part one of a two-part series. Read part two: Partisanship, Patronage & Potential Fixes.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

New York's Election Administration Accountability Vacuum - Part I: 'Bad Choices at Every Step' Mon, 09 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
WATCH: Agenda 2019: Movement Expected on Reform, But What Will It Look Like? mnn agenda ep2

(photo: @MNN59)

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

mnn59 agenda ep2As part of Agenda 2019, the project from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy were joined on Manhattan Neighborhood Network by State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, to discuss reform issues and the year ahead. Topics included voting and election reform, government ethics reform, and campaign finance reform. Krueger's new Democratic majority in the state Senate are pledging to work with the Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to usher through a long list of stalled reforms, but what will actually get done? And what should it look like? Watch:

 Gotham Gazette:

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

WATCH: Agenda 2019: Movement Expected on Reform, But What Will It Look Like? Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
An Opportunity to Offer Real Election Reform in New York City de Blasio voting instant

(photo: Gotham Gazette)

Last Tuesday during the Ohio-12 special election, Americans found themselves angry at third party voters – again – for “wasting” their votes.

This problem is not unique to Ohio: in multi-candidate competitive races, we see upset voters of one party or candidate hold others accountable for their loss.

The blame should not be placed on voters -- it should be on the broken election system. Just look at New York City.

New York City primaries are crowded fields, with sometimes with as many as seven people vying for one ballot line.

Since 2009 there have been 121 primary elections in the city; 33.8% of these primaries were two-candidate races and 66.1% were more-than-two-candidate races.

Just during last year’s primary election cycle alone there were 38 elections. While 17 of these primaries had two candidates, the remaining 21 races had more than two candidates.

Of those 21 races, roughly 61.9% were won with less than 50% of the vote.

By supporting Ranked Choice Voting in New York City, Mayor de Blasio can help end the blame game.

Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to rank candidates from first to last choice on their ballots.

A candidate who collects a majority of the vote wins. If there’s no majority, then the last-place candidate is eliminated and their votes re-allocated according to the second preference of their voters. The process is repeated until there’s a majority winner.

It provides many benefits to voters, building majority support for candidates in multi-candidate races, inspiring voters to vote their preference - not the lesser of two evils - and avoiding costly run-offs.

Constituents are best served when their elected representative is able to garner majority support, while the elected official benefits from a broader base of support as well.

Ranked Choice Voting would avoid the troubling pattern of anti-democratic electoral outcomes in New York City. Candidates would move to the general election with majority support from their district.

Right now, the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission is reviewing recommendations before making proposals for the November New York City ballot. The 15-member commission has the opportunity to help transform the way New Yorkers vote.

History has its eyes on the them.

Susan Lerner is the executive director of Common Cause-NY. On Twitter @commoncauseny.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

An Opportunity to Offer Real Election Reform in New York City Mon, 13 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000