Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2398 Fri, 20 Sep 2019 04:06:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Public Advocate Election Makes Case for Instant Runoff Voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8196-public-advocate-election-makes-case-for-instant-runoff-voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8196-public-advocate-election-makes-case-for-instant-runoff-voting elec apoll

(photo: Gotham Gazette)


If the 2018 election cycle is any indication, voter turnout is on the rise. Now is the time to take advantage of this moment to keep voters engaged in the electoral system and really give them a voice.

One of the best ideas for promoting more diverse, open, and democratic elections is instant runoff voting (IRV). In New York City primaries, runoffs are forced for citywide elected positions when votes are split and no one candidate receives more than 40 percent of the vote. With IRV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins with a first choice majority of 50 percent, the lowest vote-getters are eliminated, and the ballots where they were selected first are added to the next choice among the candidates advancing to the next round of the instant runoff. And so on, until one candidate hits 50 percent.

In 2013 – the last time a runoff was held, in the Democratic primary for Public Advocate – it resulted in an additional multi-million dollar election and a drastic decline in voter turnout to just 6.9 percent. And runoff elections are often made up of an older, whiter, and wealthier electorate. This is no way to run an election. Nor is accepting city leaders being elected with a low percentage of votes that negate the votes of the majority.

Given the recent election of Letitia James to the office of Attorney General, the public advocate is now vacant. More than 20 people have declared their candidacies, a list that seems to have grown daily for weeks. If the actual number of candidates on the February 26 ballot is anywhere close to 15 or 20, this special election we will likely see votes widely split among the candidates, ensuring that no one will win a majority of the vote. And while there would be no runoff based on city law (there are no runoffs in special elections), this election could nonetheless be a poster child in the case for instant runoff voting, which is also known as ranked-choice voting, giving more voters an actual say in choosing the next public advocate.

It should be noted that there will be another public advocate election this fall, where another crowded field could lead to a runoff, to fill out the rest of James’ term through the end of 2021. The winner of the special election is assured the office for the rest of this year only.

We will also have a environment in 2021 where ranked-choice voting will be essential. The races for mayor and comptroller are all but certain to be open, with no incumbent, and there will be another public advocate race, not to mention races for all five borough presidencies and all of the City Council. Those 2021 City Council elections, in which 36 current members are term-limited and all 51 seats up for election, will see a flood of candidates. Many races, especially the Democratic primaries, could see four, five, six, or even more candidates. Winners of a number of races may only have a plurality of the votes, unless we enact ranked-choice voting. And the citywide races could feature runoffs unless we act smartly in advance.

In 2018, the mayoral Charter Revision Commission reviewed policies that would make our city a better functioning democracy, among them, IRV. Despite widespread support, the commission bucked on the opportunity to put IRV on the ballot. It is disappointing that the commission missed this chance. Despite this, we have other avenues in which to institute IRV.

This session in Albany, I will be looking at how we can implement IRV through state legislation, engaging with my colleagues in both the Assembly and the Senate on why this policy is beneficial not only in saving taxpayer money, but also in helping us to elect candidates more representative of the city we live in, including more women and more people of color.

The 2018 Charter Commission’s failure to fully address IRV creates opportunity for action in Albany, and I expect to see people from all political sides coalesce around IRV as we move beyond whether or not it is a good idea to how, where, and when to implement it.

Instant runoff voting is used in major cities, such as San Francisco, Oakland, and Minneapolis, and this year Maine became the first state in the country to use it for congressional elections. We have allowed other states and cities to take the lead on smart and innovative voter reform while New York has stood by.

We are a city and state that often considers ourselves to be on the front lines of progressivism, but on voting reform, we often fall short. We should capitalize on the opportunities we have now going into future elections to ensure that all voices are heard and New York City and State stand up for democracy.

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Walter Mosley is a member of the New York State Assembly representing Brooklyn neighborhoods including Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant. On Twitter @WalterTMosley.

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Public Advocate Election Makes Case for Instant Runoff Voting Sun, 13 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
With Nod from De Blasio and Push from Johnson, Momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city bdb at voting machine

(photo: Gotham Gazette)


With all three of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision proposals approved by voters by wide margins on Tuesday, eyes are now on the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, empaneled by the City Council and other officials, which will, in some respects, pick up where the 2018 commission left off, possibly considering issues that the mayor’s commission did not act on.

Key among those is ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting), an alternative method of voting wherein voters rank their candidate preferences rather than simply voting for one. For whichever races it is applied to, if no candidate wins the required percentage of the vote on initial count, the last place candidate is eliminated, and the second preference of the eliminated candidate’s voters receives those votes. This continues until one candidate secures the required percentage, often set at 50 percent.

As of now, New York City only holds runoffs for citywide positions -- mayor, public advocate, comptroller -- and if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote. Mayor Bill de Blasio narrowly avoided a runoff in the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor, but there was one that year for public advocate.

That runoff, in the Democratic primary between eventual winner Letitia James and Daniel Squadron, led to heightened calls for ranked-choice voting, especially given the high cost of the runoff relative to the budget of the public advocate’s office.

Increasing support from elected officials and among the public led to ranked-choice voting being considered and discussed by the 2018 charter commission; in its final report, the commission said that it had received a “considerable volume of public comment about ranked choice voting.” In the end, the commission demurred on ranked-choice, arguing that more research and time were required and recommending that a future commission tackle the issue.

It may not take long; that commission may well end up being the 2019 commission, which has already met six times, twice in Manhattan and once each in the other boroughs, and has a much longer timeline on which to tackle issues. It is expected to continue deliberations, solicit online feedback, and hold hearings and meetings throughout the first half of next year, with its ballot proposals likely due by early September.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who got to name several commissioner including the chair, Gail Benjamin, testified at a recent hearing in favor of ranked-choice voting, urging the commission to look into it. De Blasio, meanwhile, singled out ranked-choice voting when asked by Gotham Gazette at a press availability what he would like the 2019 commission to tackle, though he did not endorse the idea outright.

“There was a very vibrant discussion in this charter revision commission, for example, about ranked-choice voting,” the mayor said. “For me, the jury’s still out on ranked-choice voting. I grew up with it in Massachusetts. I think it has strengths and I think it has weaknesses. And I’d sure like to see a lot more research on it. But there’s a lot of people who believe it might be very beneficial in New York City.”

Despite not taking an affirmative stance on the issue, de Blasio’s answer is a signal of his evolving position on ranked-choice, according to Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government group that supports ranked-choice voting.

“I think it’s significant,” Camarda said. “I think what’s telling is we’ve now seen, in the last few months, the mayor last week and the Council speaker at the Manhattan charter revision commission hearing, both called on the commission to consider instant runoff voting, and ‘here are the different arguments for it.’ And I think that’s a signal to the commission that they should seriously look at this.”

“I think there’s a new openness to it on their parts that at least wasn’t public in the past,” he continued. “De Blasio in 2013 went on The Brian Lehrer Show and actually took a position against IRV, and said at the time that the starkness of two candidates in the runoff, he thought was clarifying for voters. So clearly, his position seems to have evolved.”

Aside from good government groups, which almost uniformly support it, ranked choice also has the support of other prominent city elected officials: along with Johnson, support comes from Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate James, who was elected State Attorney General on Tuesday and in May called herself “the face of instant runoff” given her 2013 race. City Council Member Brad Lander has sponsored a bill to implement "instant run-off voting" (James is a co-sponsor) in the Council.

"As the upcoming Public Advocate race shows, Ranked Choice Voting is an idea whose time has come for New York City," Lander said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Stronger majority support, better outreach to diverse communities, less negative campaigning, and it even saves money. What's not to like?"

Advocates, including those in New York, note that ranked-choice both makes third parties more viable (by limiting the need for “strategic voting”) and forces candidates to appeal beyond their base, in the hope of attracting voters as second preference. Ranked-choice would also allow city elections to avoid costly, low-turnout runoff elections when no candidate secures the required threshold of votes.

“We think that enabling voters to rank candidates creates an environment where there's more substantive policy debate, and there’s less negativity in campaigning, because candidates have to appeal to second choice and even third choice votes,” Camarda said.

In 2013, the runoff between James and Squadron was estimated to cost about $13 million, for a position with a $2 million budget, in an election with 6.5% turnout. In a report released the following year, the city’s Campaign Finance Board recommended that New York City adopt ranked-choice voting for municipal elections.

Advocates also claim that ranked-choice increases turnout, though studies have been conflicting on the matter. Some have charged that it can be confusing to voters, decreasing turnout and the diversity of the electorate. Turnout in San Francisco, the largest American city using ranked-choice, has been generally depressed since the implementation of ranked-choice, while in Minneapolis, the results have been far more promising.

Ranked choice has taken a higher political profile after Maine voters adopted the system by referendum in 2016, after a string of gubernatorial elections going back to 2002 where no candidate received a majority of the vote. The measure survived several legal and legislative challenges and was used in this year’s midterm elections; the Democratic gubernatorial candidate won an outright majority, but the race in the 2nd Congressional District is currently being decided by instant runoff.

Along with San Francisco and Minneapolis, ranked-choice is used in cities such as Oakland and Memphis, where voters approved ranked-choice in 2008 but it has not yet been implemented. On Tuesday, voters in that city rejected a ballot proposal to abandon ranked-choice, and it will be used in 2019. And de Blasio’s hometown of Cambridge has used ranked-choice since the 1940s; Cambridge’s system is a unique hybrid of ranked-choice and proportional representation.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This story has been updated.

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With Nod from De Blasio and Push from Johnson, Momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City Thu, 08 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
An Opportunity to Offer Real Election Reform in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7864-an-opportunity-to-offer-real-election-reform-in-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7864-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.

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

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An Opportunity to Offer Real Election Reform in New York City Mon, 13 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7650-elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7650-elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting fair vote sam

Tuesday's press conference (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Several prominent Democratic elected officials and voting reform advocates on Tuesday assembled outside City Hall to call for instant runoff voting in citywide primary elections. Specifically, they said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, which just began a series of public hearings across the city, should include it among the proposals it puts before voters on the ballot this November.

Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference so that if one candidate does not cross the required threshold for victory, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are redistributed based on the second choice selected by voters who had selected the eliminated candidate first, and so on until a winner emerges. The system prevents what can be costly and labor-intensive runoff elections, such as the one held in the 2013 primary election for public advocate.

Runoffs are currently only required in the three citywide races, for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, and occur among the top two vote-getters if no candidate hits 40 percent in the first round of the primary.

Though prior instant runoff proposals originating in the City Council have failed, the group of electeds and advocates sought to seize on an opportunity presented by the mayor’s creation of the Charter Revision Commission. The commission, which is holding hearings across the five boroughs to solicit public input as to what its agenda should be, can consider any proposal presented to it, though de Blasio charged its members with particularly looking at voting access and campaign finance reform. Its recommendations will take the form of ballot referenda to be offered to voters in this year’s general election.

“I am the face of instant runoff, let me remind you,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at Tuesday’s news conference, on the steps of City Hall. The 2013 public advocate runoff -- which James won over then-State Senator Daniel Squadron -- cost an estimated $13 million to taxpayers, surpassing the office’s combined budget for James’ entire first four-year term. James said Tuesday that instant runoffs are the “least expensive and more democratic option” for the city.

“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in.  

Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.

The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.

“Cities that have adopted instant runoff voting to eliminate runoffs have not only saved millions of dollars but have also improved their democracies by making sure that we are electing our leaders in an election where the most voters, the most diverse voters, are at the polls at one time,” said Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a nonpartisan advocacy group, at the news conference. Ramsey noted that 15 cities across the country have already implemented instant runoffs. A FairVote analysis of the 2013 public advocate runoff also showed that the Democratic primary runoff electorate was older, whiter, and wealthier than Democrats overall, and only reflected a 7 percent turnout. It occured on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.

Critiquing the state’s arcane election laws, Stringer said instant runoffs are a “progressive leap” that would allow elections to be decided quickly and efficiently, and he said the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission affords the city a prime opportunity to pursue the policy. “We don’t have to go to Albany and deal with that political dysfunction in order to get this electoral reform,” he said, an apparent reference to that fact that many other voting and election laws are dictated by the state.

In December, Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, testified before the City Council on the 2017 elections and warned them that they had “dodged a bullet” by narrowly avoiding a runoff in the mayoral primary for the Reform Party line. Kellner said at the news conference Tuesday that the state already has the technology and capability to implement instant runoff voting, and reiterated the cost savings associated with implementing the system.  

“We cannot continue to have an 8-track method in an iPhone age,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “It is time to ensure that the process encourages people to come out. We live in real time, we live in instant time...Let’s make sure runoff elections are a thing of the past and let’s do it in the right way.”

The proposal put forward on Tuesday was not the first attempt at eliminating runoff elections. In 2014, Council Member Lander sponsored a bill to call a referendum on the issue. Mayor de Blasio didn’t support it at the time and has since been lukewarm on the proposal. Asked Tuesday by a reporter if there was any opposition to the proposal, Lander said, “I think it’s just an issue that it’s change and change is not always easy. This is a change to our electoral processes and that’s not something we’re always ready to do.”

As the group was gathered at City Hall, a parallel voting reform effort was being advanced in the state capital as well. The state Senate Democrats, led by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unveiled a new report highlighting the shortcomings of the state’s election system that led to an abysmally low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. They also released an accompanying package of bills to address voter access and participation. The conference is in the minority, though, and there is limited likelihood that the Republican majority will advance the reforms being sought, such as early voting.

[Read: State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting Tue, 01 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7369-state-board-of-elections-official-says-city-must-move-to-instant-runoff-voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7369-state-board-of-elections-official-says-city-must-move-to-instant-runoff-voting kallos hearing

Council Member Ben Kallos (photo via @NYCCouncil)


Ahead of the September 12 primary, mayoral candidate Sal Albanese seemingly had the Reform Party ballot line locked up. It meant that Albanese would be on the general election ballot even if he lost the Democratic primary to Mayor Bill de Blasio. At the last minute, however, Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl attempted to snatch the Reform nomination from Albanese through an “opportunity to ballot,” which had effectively opened up the Reform line to write-in candidates. Albanese would prevail with 53 percent of the vote, but the spectacle raised major concerns for elections officials. Had all of the candidates failed to reach the 40 percent mark, it would’ve automatically triggered a laborious and costly citywide runoff election between the top two vote-getters.

New York City “dodged a bullet” in avoiding a runoff election, said Douglas Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, at a Wednesday oversight hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations. Kellner, who was there to give his assessment of the recent municipal elections and other matters, briefed the committee members on steps the Council could take to improve election management.

“The first is something that is really in your lap, and that is dealing with the runoff primary election,” he said, calling on the Council to quickly implement instant runoff voting in which voters get to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. For the three citywide positions of Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, New York City’s charter instead provides for a runoff to be held two weeks after a primary, burdening local election administrators and costing millions of dollars. Most recently, an expensive runoff infamously occured in the 2013 Democratic primary for public advocate, with the primary costing more than the annual budget for the office.

Urgent action is necessary, Kellner said, since a significant amount of time can go into updating election equipment and planning for the next election cycle. Moving soon, four years out from the next city election, would also prevent individuals and parties from predicting, and gaming, the effects on the election system, he said.

“Now, you dodged a bullet...but, that problem hasn’t gone away,” Kellner said, insisting that there was no significant benefit from a full runoff. “And if you’re not gonna do anything, then it’s your fault,” he joked. “But it’s not realistic to make the decision two or three years down the road.” The 2021 elections, when all three citywide posts will be open due to term limits, are expected to be especially competitive in the Democratic primaries.

Council Member Ben Kallos, the chair of the committee, is himself “incredibly supportive” of instant runoffs, he said Wednesday. “I believe that a certain elected official...in the city is opposing that legislation,” he said wryly, referring to Mayor de Blasio, who opposed instant runoff voting when he was public advocate. “While I here in the Council am willing to do so, I believe we still need to get the mayor to sign it,” Kallos added.

All of the eight candidates to become the next City Council Speaker recently said that they support moving to instant runoff voting, often called ranked-choice voting.

Kellner, who also floated the option of a charter amendment petition, which would go to the voters, said if the city failed to implement runoff voting, then it should abolish runoff elections entirely. “The city was lucky this last year that they didn’t have to spend the money on a runoff election,” he said. “And imagine what the reaction would’ve been if the city had to spend millions of dollars to hold a runoff election for one of the small parties, where they might’ve been spending as much as $30,000 per vote in order to administer a runoff election for one of the smaller parties. And that’s how the statute is set up now and it’s a crazy statute.”

Indeed, in the 2013 race to replace de Blasio as public advocate, Democrats Letitia James and Daniel Squadron went to a runoff election that was estimated to cost around $13 million. Both Squadron and James, the eventual winner of the race, came out in favor of instant runoff voting.

“I think that that is a worthy conversation that needs to be had and we certainly would need to make some adjustments,” said New York City Board of Election Executive Director Michael Ryan, at Wednesday’s hearing. Ryan noted that the potential runoff for the Reform Party, which holds open primaries, would be open to approximately 800,000 unaffiliated voters and the 261 New Yorkers registered with the party itself as of November 1. “It would’ve been a full citywide runoff,” he said, “and considering the paucity of actual enrollees in the Reform Party, its very easy to field candidates when you need such a small number of signatures and then open the Board up to significant elections responsibilities and a potential runoff.”

He said the Board had plans in place to hold the election, and pointed out the multiple hurdles they would face. Between primary day and the day of the runoff, there were multiple religious holidays, and the UN General Assembly was convening, where President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak. “So to say we dodged a bullet is an understatement,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting Wed, 13 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000