Recap: Ranked Choice Voting Webinar

June 8, 2021

Primary Election Day is June 22nd. The best way to advocate for the environment is to make sure you cast your ballot. Check here for information on deadlines and locations.

This year, voters in NYC will have the opportunity to participate in ranked-choice voting. That means instead of just picking one candidate for any given position, you will rank up to your top five choices.

On Thursday, June 3rd, along with Good Old Lower East Side, the League of Women Voters of New York City, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice, we hosted a virtual event on Ranked Choice Voting. This year, numerous elected offices are on the ballot. Furthermore, New York City recently adopted a Ranked Choice Voting system, which will be used for the first time in a major election this primary day. The event discussed how to fill in your ballot, how your responses are used to elect the winners, how candidates are using the systems while campaigning, and why the system was enacted in the first place.

If you would like to view the webinar recording, please click here.

Christopher Casey is the Director of Voter Engagement at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. He leads the organization’s political and electoral programming. He began by introducing WE ACT, which was founded in 1988 to build healthy communities by ensuring that historically marginalized groups meaningfully participate in the creation of equitable environmental policies and practices. He then provided some examples of environmental racism, the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color, and environmental justice, the movement to address environmental racism and prevent inequitable exposure to environmental hazards.

He also introduced the term climate justice, the movement to address the climate crisis in an equitable manner. “A just transition” is a term used to refer to a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy that does not leave communities of color behind. He said that ranked choice voting was, in a word, “power,” describing how the previous system often forced voters to choose the lesser of two evils. Ranked choice voting will increase the power of marginalized communities by broadening the number and diversity of candidates, causing more candidates to discuss issues often ignored on the debate stage (i.e. not education, jobs, and crime), and effectuating strategic voting (allowing groups who support different top candidates but have similar views on other candidates to work together).

Click here to start the webinar recording at Christopher’s remarks.

Gianni Rodriguez is the Environmental Justice and Climate Resiliency Organizer at Good Old Lower East Side, which has fought to keep the people of the Lower East Side in their homes and community since 1977. They are a people-powered housing, environmental, and racial justice organization reaching over 80,000 people during the COVID-19 pandemic. She then cited the importance of flood protection and stormwater management to her community, citing the community’s suffering during and after Superstorm Sandy. She also mentioned extreme heat, air pollution, and waste mismanagement as other important environmental issues. Rodriguez stressed the importance of electing officials who will address these problems and mentioned the lack of confidence in the electoral process among members of her community. She’s hopeful that the new ranked choice voting system will encourage more New Yorkers to vote.

Click here to start the webinar recording at Gianni’s remarks.

Dianne Burrows is a former public school teacher who currently serves as Co-President of the League of Women Voters of New York City. The LWV educates and engages New Yorkers to be informed voters, and advocates and lobbies for legislation to improve the quality of life and ensure an open and democratic process in NYC. Burrows gave a presentation based on Adrienne Kivelson’s book What Makes New York City Run? which she titled “Who Makes NYC Run?” Her presentation discussed the roles and responsibilities of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough President, City Council, and District Attorney. The first three of these officials are elected citywide, while the remaining three are held in boroughwide elections. 

The mayor appoints the heads of most agencies without needing city council approval, signs or vetoes any bill passed by the city council, creates and proposes the city budget to the council, and develops a long-term strategic plan for the city. The mayor can also create or abolish city agencies. The comptroller is elected to be independent of the mayor and public advocate. The comptroller also recommends fiscal policies and financial transactions for the city, conducts audits, and submits advice to the mayor and city council on the financial condition of the city. The audit process is required annually and must be transparent. It is accessible at www.checkbooknyc.com. The Public Advocate (PA) is first in the mayoral line of succession. The PA advocates for the public by monitoring, investigating, and responding to all citizen complaints. Public hearings on the performance and legality of city agencies may be held by the public advocate, who also appoints one member to the City Planning Commission. The Landlord Watchlist is an example of something the PA has done.

Borough-wide elected officials consist of 5 borough presidents, 51 city council members, and 5 district attorneys. They are only elected by the constituents in their borough. The city council proposes and votes on all local laws, and has sole jurisdiction over the passage of the city budget. They also review land use matters, oversee all city programs and agencies, and set the real estate tax rate. The council can also levy other taxes with the approval of the state legislature. An important function of the city council is to implement “participatory budgeting,” which encourages citizens to participate in the budget-making process. Borough presidents are the chief executive officers for their borough. They must be consulted by the mayor and city council on any budget expenditures for their borough, are allowed to propose legislation and budgetary expenditures to the city council and mayor, and allocate discretionary spending for their borough. Borough presidents also review all land-use decisions affecting their borough, coordinate citizen complaints, and chair a board of council members and community board members in their borough.

Burrows then discussed the city’s community boards, which are advisory only but hold a lot of power. People can serve by filling out an application on their borough president’s website. She also discussed the LWV’s Vote411 tool, which allows voters to check where candidates stand on various issues. Burrows also discussed the limits to elected officials’ power. Offices are subject to term limits, with two four-year terms being the maximum allowed. The federal government also limits what the city can do, through federal funds which are allocated for specific purposes, as well as through federal laws and mandates. The state of New York restricts the city government by needing to approve all taxes (except the real estate tax). The State also controls transit and rent control, implements laws, and helps fund the city’s schools. Additionally, the city will often borrow money from the state. Finally, quasi-independent agencies such as NYC Health and Hospitals, NYCHA, and the Housing Development Corp make decisions without the direct approval of the city government.

Click here to start the webinar recording at “Who Makes NYC Run?”

Ranked choice voting increases power for voters. Burrows says that we constantly rank our choices in our lives, giving the example of ranking toppings when going out for pizza with friends. Burrows then delved into the process of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). In most elections, voters can only choose one candidate, while RCV allows you to rank up to five candidates in order of preference. RCV was approved for NYC in a 2019 election and will be implemented by the city for primary and special local elections in 2021. These include city-wide elections (for the mayor, PA, and comptroller), and borough-wide elections (for the borough president and city council). RCV will not be implemented for the elections of the DA and judges. To use RCV, rank up to five candidates in order of your preference. Rank your favorite candidate first, your second favorite candidate second, and so on. Only rank candidates who you feel can do the job and you can live with as your elected official, as you do not have to rank five candidates. You cannot rank any candidate more than once, and cannot give multiple candidates the same ranking. If you don’t rank anyone for your 1st-4th choices but rank someone 5th, that person will be your first choice candidate. Additionally, if you rank candidates with choices 1-3 and 5, but do not rank anyone fourth (miss a rank), then your fifth choice candidate will become your fourth choice.

Ranked choice ballots have a different counting process as well. If any candidate receives more than 50% of first-place votes, they win the election. If no candidate earns more than 50% of the first-choice votes, counting will continue in rounds. The candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes will be eliminated, and each of their voter’s votes will be allocated to their second-choice candidate. Once those votes are allocated, the remaining candidate with the lowest percentage of votes will be eliminated, and their votes will be redistributed according to their voters’ next highest-ranked candidates. The process will repeat until there are only two candidates left. Vote counting may take longer than traditional elections since there may be multiple rounds. The results for every election will be posted on vote.nyc.

In November, voters will vote on no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration. 

Click here to start the recording at the presentation on RCV.

A Q&A session followed the presentations. Regarding what happens if a voter makes a mistake on their ballot (i.e. filling the same candidate in twice, filling in two candidates for the same choice), Burrows said that the machine would flag the submission and prompt the voter with a choice of filling out a new ballot or submitting anyway. If the second ballot also has an issue, the voter will get one final chance on a third ballot. Poll workers will distribute cards to voters on how to correctly fill in their ballot. Regarding incorrect absentee ballots, Burrows replied that only the oath envelope can be ‘cured’ in absentee voting since the ballot does not have a name on it. Therefore, incorrect votes will not be corrected when voting absentee. Each vote can only count towards one candidate at a time. You can still write in a candidate in ranked choice voting (for any choice). RCV was adopted because it gives people more of a voice in who their elected officials are. RCV elections are audited, and results after every round are displayed at the end of the election. Results of the election may take a couple of weeks. RCV will save the city money by allowing the city to avoid spending on runoff elections. Rodriguez said it is paramount that we vote for candidates that can represent us, and that climate and environmental justice are life-saving policies for her community. She also said she feels that RCV will encourage more people who care about environmental justice issues to vote, citing the appeal of having your vote count even after your first-choice candidate is eliminated. Later, Rodriguez said that advocacy and outreach have helped us reach more people than ever before, but added that a lot more on-the-ground outreach is needed. Burrows said that several municipalities around the Bay Area, as well as the state of Maine, have adopted RCV. Rodriguez said that a lot of education and trust-building must be done to quell voters’ cynicism. Burrows said that if you do not like a candidate, do not rank that candidate.

Click here to start the webinar at the audience Q&A.

We thank our event partners North Brooklyn Neighbors and South Bronx Unite.

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