By: Sylvanna Gross
The night “plunged into chaos” when the New York City Board of Elections published, and then immediately removed, the vote tabulations for the next NYC mayor in June, 2021. It was the first time the city implemented ranked-choice voting after a ballot question proposing the shift was approved in 2019. Interestingly, the candidate who eventually won, Eric Adams, opposed the ballot proposition. He predicted the path to his eventual success when he stated, “I am concerned that not enough … has been done … to ensure a smooth transition.”
Ranked-choice voting was invented in the 1850s and adapted to a single-winner form by an MIT professor in the 1870s. The first American jurisdiction to adopt it was in Ohio in 1915. A ranked-choice voting system is where voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. It utilizes a “first-past-the-post” standard where if a candidate wins most of the first-preference votes, they are declared the winner. But, in instances where there is no clear first-preference winner, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and votes are re-tabulated in a runoff tally. This process is repeated until there is a candidate receiving over 50% of votes. This system would replace a “winner-take-all” system that elevates issues such as distortions in partisan representation, entrenchment of incumbents in safe seats, regional polarization, and low representation of minorities. Unlike the current system, which allows for a candidate to win with less than 50% support among voters, ranked-choice voting ensures at least 50% of voters preferred the winning candidate.
New York City was the largest jurisdiction to implement ranked-choice voting, tripling the number of people around the country who use it. Twenty-two jurisdictions, as of September 2021, use ranked-choice voting. Only Maine and Alaska have fully adopted ranked-choice voting for both statewide and presidential elections. In New York, despite the implementation in New York City, Assembly Bill A1009 of the 2021-2022 New York State that would have established ranked choice voting method for presidential elections, never passed committee.
In October 2021, Andrew Yang, who was a 2020 presidential candidate and subsequent 2021 New York City mayoral candidate who lost the Democratic nomination, announced a new political party with ranked-choice voting as its central platform. The new party focuses on advancing structural changes to the political system and lessening extreme partisanship.
The new party assures voters they can maintain their current party affiliations, otherwise “you’re asking them to potentially disenfranchise themselves… .” Yang uses Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) as an example of why the Forward Party is pushing for open primaries and ranked-choice voting. Senator Murkowski was the only Republican senator who voted to impeach Donald Trump and who was also up for reelection. Yang believes one of the reasons she voted to impeach was because of Alaska’s decision to move from a closed-party primary to a top-four primary and ranked-choice voting. So, despite her ten percent approval among Alaskan Republicans, Senator Murkowski can directly “go” to the Alaskan voters.
Ranked-choice voting, according to the Forward Party, is a tool to increase voter representation through inclusive electoral policies and practices as party primaries disenfranchise most voters. The proposed system is supposed to “better captur[e] voters’ true preferences.”
Yang is directly confronting the issue of third-party voting in this country and how voting for one is perceived as a “wasted vote.” Cases such as Munro v. Socialist Workers illustrate the difficulties third-party candidates have in even reaching a general ballot, leaving voters often picking between two candidates they dislike in order to choose the “lesser of two evils.” Ranked-choice voting, however, allows voters to cast ballots for those candidates who can more directly express their personal values without such a worry.
Yang does not expect someone to run on the Forward Party line. Rather, he intends to support candidates who support the principles of the party. A primary principle being ranked-choice voting.