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Reviews |  How to use ranked choice voting to help or hinder New York City mayoral candidates


New York City embarked on the largest preferential vote election in U.S. history with the Democratic primary for mayor on Tuesday. Many New Yorkers are looking for advice on how to fill out their ballots to help their favorite candidates – or to try to block other candidates they don’t want from city hall.

As a longtime planner and ranked vote champion, I’ve put together some tips for marking your ballot for a variety of scenarios involving mayoral candidates, especially Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Yang and Scott Stringer. But first, the good news for voters: it’s not rocket science.

The system is designed so that voters have their say and come up with a consensus candidate. Because voting for desired results is so intuitive, the ranked choice has become the country’s most popular new electoral reform after successful uses in Maine for President and Congress, municipal elections in more than a dozen cities and elections for leaders of associations.

Among the pros: In Tuesday’s primaries, the top-to-bottom races of the ballot have multiple candidates of color and women, and in the ranked vote none of them have to worry about split votes. This term describes what often happens when two or more candidates calling for the same voters run for election and the votes are split, so neither wins. This helps explain why RepresentWomen and FairVote are showing soaring success for underrepresented candidates.

The best advice is simple: rank your favorite candidate first, your second favorite second and so on until you reach the maximum of five ranked candidates in New York. If you place five, you will have cast your most meaningful ballot ever.

But for voters who want to think strategically, here are a few scenarios to keep in mind.

Rank Mr. Adams first and include Ms. Garcia, Mr. Yang and Scott Stringer in your ranking. Don’t rank Ms. Wiley.

Rank Ms. Wiley first and include Ms. Garcia, Mr. Stringer, and Mr. Yang in your ranking. Do not rank Mr. Adams.

Rank Ms. Garcia first and include Ms. Wiley, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Yang in your ranking. Do not rank Mr. Stringer.

Suppose you think it’s time for New York’s first female mayor. Of the top three candidates in the polls – Ms Wiley, Ms Garcia, and Dianne Morales – you need to rank one of them first, then rank any others you feel are acceptable before you rank a man. This approach helped Oakland elect its first female mayor, after converting to priority voting in 2010.

If, say, electing Mr. Yang is your only motivation, just rank him first. But think twice ranking only Mr. Yang; it won’t help them any more than you already have, and you won’t be able to influence who wins if they don’t make it to the final round.

If you rank the other three leading candidates – Mr. Adams, Ms Garcia, and Ms Wiley – and two other candidates, and don’t rank Mr. Yang, your ballot will count against him every round. The same approach applies if you want to try to stop other leaders; for example, if you want to arrest Ms. Garcia, your filing should include at least Mr. Adams, Ms. Wiley and Mr. Yang in any order you want.

Rank Ms. Wiley as your top choice and potentially include other progressive candidates in your rankings, but be sure to rank Ms. Garcia ahead of other viable moderate candidates. While Ms Wiley leads progressive backers, polls show Ms Garcia does well among self-proclaimed Liberal voters.

Current city comptroller Mr Stringer has cultivated voters for years and still enjoys support despite allegations of sexual misconduct. With ranked voting, you can always rank it first, but be prepared to complete your next ranking as these candidates may well receive your vote in the count.

Rank your preferred candidate first, regardless of viability, and be sure to include your preferred favorite in your ranking.

If you want a more progressive candidate, rank Ms. Morales, Mr. Stringer, Ms. Wiley, and Shaun Donovan in order of preference before you rank your most acceptable moderate candidate. If you want a more moderate candidate, start your ranking with your favorite mix of Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia, Mr. Yang, and Ray McGuire.

Honestly ranking your choices is the safest way to vote. But if you want to make your preferential voting even more strategic, there are two potential factors for those watching the polls.

First, because New York City limits rankings to five, the best way to ensure your ballots count in each round of the count is to include at least four of the five most viable candidates. Polls suggest the five most viable candidates for the Democratic mayor’s primary are Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia, Ms. Wiley, Mr. Yang and Mr. Stringer.

Second, you might only care about defeating someone. Keeping that candidate off your ballot and ranking all other viable candidates in your order of preference almost always works best for this purpose. But if you’re certain that a single candidate can beat a candidate you don’t like (and that’s a big if), rank that candidate as the # 1 favorite to improve their chances of making it to the final round.

Follow these tips and you’ll help your favorite as much as possible while making sure your vote counts against the candidate you don’t like the most.

It’s important to understand that the winners could also have won under the old single-choice system. Your ballot never counts as more than one candidate in each round of counting, and the ranking of candidates after your first choice does not count against your preferred candidate in any way.

Indeed, many races are won by candidates who win in the first round by obtaining more than half of the first choice rankings. Your save ranks only count when no one gets a majority in the first round – and only if your top ranked pick has been defeated.

For candidates, never assume voters fall into simplistic categories. Few people rank every woman over every man or every person of a racial or ethnic group over everyone. The broad categories of progressive and moderate do not match the way every voter thinks. In an open primary like this, it makes sense to engage with voters beyond your base to seek out a connection that could earn a high ranking.

The bottom line: Rank voting is not a panacea for politics, but it is a fair system that gives voters more power to get what they want. Of course, only one candidate can win, and there is bound to be disappointment. But to give your vote its best chance to sway the outcome, rank fifth and get ready for a new mayor who could serve New York well for the rest of the decade.

Rob Richie has led FairVote since 1992 and FairVote Action, a lobby group, since 2002. He has contributed to “Every Vote Equal”, a book on Electoral College reform, and has written “Whose Votes Count”, a book on fair representation in the vote.

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