April 18 2019

Advocates push for ranked-choice voting (Queens Chronicle)

by Ryan Brady, Editor

With the 2019 Charter Revision Commission looking at how to improve the city’s governing document, advocates gathered in Downtown Flushing last Thursday to call for the panel to recommend ranked-choice voting.

RCV, also known as instant runoff, lets voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins an outright majority, the one with the least first-choice votes loses in the first round; her or his second-choice votes are reallocated. The process is repeated until one candidate wins with a majority percentage.

Voters in Oakland, Minneapolis, San Francisco and some other major cities elect their officials with the ranked-choice system. And the appetite is growing for the five boroughs to join them.

Speaking at the event on the steps of the Flushing Library, Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner officially announced her group’s campaign to get a top-five candidate RCV system for primary and special elections.

“Right now, as a happy result of our campaign finance system, we have many races in New York City where there are a lot of candidates,” she said. “And as a result, all too frequently, the winner of that contest is chosen with less than majority support.”

Lerner brought up the February special election for public advocate. Jumaane Williams won the race with a 35-percent plurality; 16 other candidates were on the ballot. He joined Lerner the other day to call for New York to have the ranked-choice system.

Joining her in Flushing last Thursday were Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), another public advocate candidate; Chinese-American Planning Council Director of Policy and Advocacy Amy Torres; and the MinKwon Center for Community Action.

They said RCV drives candidates to maximize the number of voters whom they appeal to.

“It’s a consensus-driven approach,” Kim said.

The assemblyman said ranked-choice could dramatically change the existing “cutthroat, supercompetitive” system, in which political consultants specialize in suppressing the votes of their clients’ rivals. Candidates would be forced to focus on important issues and propose thoughtful solutions to them, Kim explained.

Another advantage of the ranked-choice system is how the city would possibly save millions in each election cycle because there wouldn’t be runoffs, he added.

The speakers also brought up how RCV would benefit communities that have historically faced exclusion from centers of power in city politics. Kim pointed to an example: the late Ed Lee, a Chinese-American, was elected San Francisco mayor in 2011 after winning in the second round of an RCV election.

Asian-American Pacific Islanders make up a major share of Queens residents, but many say the group’s concerns have not been given anywhere near adequate attention from elected officials.

Torres of the CPC said there is a misconception that members of the AAPI community “don’t vote because they don’t care” when the reality is more complex.

“It’s because those who are running for office and those who are elected into office do not engage the Asian-American Pacific Islander community on the issues that matter to them or with the framing that matters to them,” she said.

Under RCV, Torres added, candidates would be compelled to distribute campaign materials in languages spoken by AAPI voters.

“They would be forced to engage on the issues that matter to us because not only are they running for one vote, they’re running for a series of ranked votes,” she said. “This is an option that would really increase the power of the AAPI electorate because we would be engaged on the same issues that the rest of the electorate is engaged on, but in a way that is nuanced and tailored to our community.”

According to City & State New York, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission is expected to announce its proposals for ballot referenda later this month.

Last November, city voters approved the three items placed on the ballot by the separate charter revision commission that Mayor de Blasio had established. One of the measures established term limits for community board members; another changed the city’s matching funds program from six-to-one to eight-to-one and lowered the threshold for how large a donation a candidate for city office can accept, and the third directed the city to establish a Civic Engagement Commission.