Instant Runoff/Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is an innovative approach to voting that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, thereby increasing competition, encouraging civility and requiring candidates to win genuine policy support from voters, rather than simply stoking division.

RCV was successfully used New York City’s 2021 primaries and special elections for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, and city council and is now being used across the country in places like Alaska and Maine.

RCV is straightforward and is often referred to as “Instant Runoff” voting. Voters have the option to just choose a single candidate as in the past, or rank candidates in order of preference: first, second, third and so forth. If any candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on the initial count, they win.  If no majority is reached, the lowest vote-getter is dropped and an instant runoff occurs, reallocating votes based on voter preference., with votes that do not help voters’ top choices win counting for their next choice. Doing so provides more choices to more voices in our elections.

How we got here

Years of gerrymandered election districts have led to the creation of “safe seats” throughout New York state. These noncompetitive elections drive down voter engagement, turnout and keep out alternate voices. The result is an electorate in New York that does not show up to vote and one where more than 40% are considering leaving the state.

Further, in general elections with three or more candidates, voters often face a choice: vote for who they want and risk electing the candidate they like the least or vote for the candidate they think is more likely to win. This is the “spoiler effect” and it artificially suppresses the support of third party candidates. Ranked choice voting allows voters to vote their conscience.

Why it’s a problem

As currently constituted, candidates are only incentivized cater to the extreme edges of their party. This is done to secure support in lightly attended primary elections that often decide who will represent a district. In the most recent state primary elections, more than 85% of the eligible voters stayed home. With RCV, candidates are incentivized to talk to a broader section of the electorate —  not just the fringe minority. This allows candidates to compete on an even playing field — and with greater voter confidence behind them. This process makes our voting system more inclusive and democratic, while also allowing for innovation to reflect progress happening in other realms of democratic society.

What has to happen

NYC voters have already embraced this reform and now it is time for the rest of the state to adopt it as well. Voters in cities all over New York can petition their local government to implement non-partisan RCV for city elections.  An important component of this effort is providing resources for voters to truly understand how the process works and why it is needed.

To learn more about how Ranked Choice Voting works in New York City, please visit Rank The Vote NYC and the NYC Board of Elections. For more information on how RCV works nationally, please visit Unite America or Rank the Vote.

The good news is that despite RCV being a relatively new concept in this state, according to our Voter Empowerment Index, more half of voters already support it.

Rank the Vote

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“Our political system isn’t broken.
It’s fixed.”

Katherine Gehl

Unite NY is tracking legislation in New York that will drive real change and improve our democracy. Check these bills out and let your Senator or Assemblymember know you support this legislation too!  Use these links to find your NYS Senator or find your NYS Assemblymember.

Bill Number: A479
AM: Carroll (D)
Establishes a ranked choice voting method for nonpartisan primary elections.

Bill Number: A3608
AM: Thiele (D)
This act would permit the use of the ranked choice voting method on a trial basis in certain local elections in years 2024 and 2025. This pilot program would permit the State Legislature to evaluate the broader application or the ranked choice voting method to elections in New York State.

Bill Number: A4351
AM: O’Donnell (D)
Establishes a ranked choice voting method to be implemented by local governments for use in general elections, special elections and primaries within the state.

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