Comp Stringer + BP Brewer, Common Cause/NY: BOE Needs to Plan for 2021 RCV Election NOW

BOE blows June 1 deadline to deliver report to City for mandatory machine upgrades requiring state approval

NEW YORK, NY (06/26/2020) (readMedia)-- NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer joined Common Cause/NY to raise the alarm that the BOE needs to start planning now for next year's first ever ranked choice voting election. Last summer, nearly 75% of New Yorkers voted for a ballot initiative to make New York City the largest U.S. jurisdiction to adopt ranked choice voting.

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The BOE has already missed a Charter mandated June 1st deadline to submit a readiness report for next year. The deadline is crucial in order to make sure the board can purchase the necessary software and firmware upgrades to the existing voting machines for ranked choice voting. According to state law, all upgrades or new voting equipment requires certification from the state BOE. The certification process typically takes 6 months, but the City may be facing as many as two special elections via ranked choice voting as early as March, 2021 depending on the final outcomes of the Queens Borough President and NY-15 races.

"New York City just pulled off our first election in a pandemic, with less than two months notice, but we need to get ready for our first ranked choice voting election now. We're facing a moment of great change, but ranked choice voting can help bring us through to a more democractic society by empowering and elevating diverse voices. The BOE needs to submit its report asap and start the clock on the state certification process to transform what voting looks like."

"There's nothing more sacred in our democracy than the right to vote, and our City needs to do everything in our power to guarantee everyone's voice is heard. Ranked Choice Voting is a groundbreaking reform that New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted for, and we can't get this wrong. The BOE needs to get their act together, be proactive, and take action to ensure that the implementation is successful and reflects the will of the people," said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.

"We've got to make sure that the Board of Elections' voting systems are updated in time for the next election and to make us the biggest place in the United States to put ranked choice voting to use. I'm proud to stand with Common Cause and Comptroller Stringer today to call on the BOE to comply with the charter-mandated deadlines and ensure we can implement ranked choice voting while also saving money in the midst of this crisis, said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

According to the New York City Charter: "The board of elections in the city of New York shall take all necessary steps to ensure timely implementation of Ranked Choice Voting pursuant to this section. No later than June 1, 2020, such board shall submit to the mayor and speaker of the council a report containing a plan for achieving timely implementation of Ranked Choice Voting for applicable elections held on or after January 1, 2021. Failure by such board to submit such a report within 30 days of June 1, 2020 shall create a rebuttable presumption that such board is declining to implement Ranked Choice Voting as required by this section."

While New York City has the bulk of what it needs, hand-marked paper ballots and optical ballot scanners, nominal software and firmware upgrades need to be certified by the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) before the 2021 election cycle. Common Cause/NY along with Reinvent Albany, the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, and Citizens Union also sent a letter to the BOE outlines these same concerns.

June 26, 2020

Patricia Anne Taylor, President

Frederic M. Umane, Secrtary

Commissioners of Elections

New York City Board of Elections

42 Broadway

New York, NY

Micheal J. Ryan

Executive Director of the New York City Board of Elections

Dawn Sandow

Deputy Executive Director of the New York City Board of Elections

Re: Checking on status of June 1, 2020 RCV implementation report

Dear Mr. Ryan and Ms. Sandow,

We, the undersigned, fought hard to bring Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to New York City last year. Nearly 75% of New Yorkers voted in support of transforming our municipal elections in 2021 through the use of RCV in our local primary and special elections. New York City is now the largest US jurisdiction to adopt RCV, tripling the number of US voters using RCV overnight.

Voters in other cities, states, and countries have voted via Ranked Choice Voting for decades. They rank their favorite candidates for congressional races in Maine, District Attorney in San Francisco, and City Council in Minneapolis among many others. New Yorkers are already eager to use RCV as they watch crowded congressional primaries unfold where fears of vote splitting are driving candidates to drop out and voters are being encouraged to vote strategically as opposed to their true preference. Ranked Choice Voting will solve for these undemocratic outcomes in 2021, but only if our election infrastructure is ready to comply with city law.

The COVID pandemic has upended life as we know it and placed tremendous pressure on city agencies to meet their mission and continue functioning in the new normal. In addition to conducting elections in 2020, the New York City Board of Elections (NYC BOE) has been tasked with faithfully implementing the will of New Yorkers by preparing for our first Ranked Choice Voting elections next year.

We acknowledge the additional burden of operating in this new environment, but as we've seen the NYC BOE adapt to the COVID crisis, we remain confident the Board is up to the task. As such, we eagerly anticipate the release of the New York City charter mandated implementation report that was due on June 1, 2020 to the Mayor and Speaker of the City Council. While New York City has the bulk of what it needs, hand-marked paper ballots and optical ballot scanners, nominal software and firmware upgrades need to be certified by the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) before the 2021 election cycle.

It is highly likely New York City will hold its first Ranked Choice Voting election in March: a special election to fill a vacated seat during the 2020 general election, so our organizations remain sensitive to the implementation timeline. We look forward to your updates and the release of the report.


Reinvent Albany

League of Women Voters of the City of New York

Citizens Union

Common Cause New York