Ranked Choice voting comes through for New Yorkers

An article in Politico highlights the differences that have been made by the change to ranked choice voting in New York City’s recent primary elections. 

Ranked Choice voting is more usually known in the UK as preferential voting or the Alternative Vote. Electors number their choices in order with 1 for their first preference, 2 for their second preference and so on. In the New York system they are constrained to a maximum of five preferences. The system is designed so that if no candidate wins an overall majority on first preferences then the lowest scoring candidate is eliminated and their votes redistributed according to the next preference of the voter. It means that votes aren’t ‘wasted’ on no-hope candidates.

Politico has found that of the 63 races, only three saw a candidate who was not in the lead on first preferences end up as the eventual winner. That isn’t unusual – especially as 21 were won with an overall majority on first preferences.

In the most high profile race – that for Democratic Mayoral nominee – Eric Adams won the vote despite two candidates – Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia – effectively teaming up to advise their supporters to cast their second preference for the other. 

Of the three where the lead changed, one is particularly interesting. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Council member, decided to re-stand at the last minute despite questions about his ability to do the job. Nevertheless, incumbency brought with it a significant bonus and he led on first preferences with just 21.1% of the vote. Under the old system he would have won. But using preferential voting his closest challenger Kristin Richardson Jordan was able to overcome the deficit to win by 114 votes – a slim but decisive margin.

The key lesson from New York appears to be that ranked choice – or preferential – voting helps to give voters more choice and ensures that winners have broader support but only rarely results in significant leader changes.