Ranked Choice Voting + the Race For City Council in District 31
Candidates agree new voting method gives voters more choices
NEW YORK, NY (02/16/2021) (readMedia)-- Last Thursday night, Common Cause/NY, Rank the Vote NYC and Disability Rights NY hosted a virtual forum on ranked choice voting (RCV) and the race for City Council in District 31. The event was moderated by David Brand, managing editor at the Queens Daily Eagle, and Brigid Bergin, City Hall and politics reporter at WNYC. Seven candidates participated, including Manny Silva, Pesach Osina, Nancy Martinez, Dr. Shawn Rux, Latanyta Collins, Nicole Lee and Latoya Benjamin. Early voting in Council District 31 began on Saturday.
The candidates were asked specifically how the first test of RCV in Council District 24 has impacted their campaigning:
"I agree that District 24 is a lot different from our district. So, I think the outcome would be different. However, I do see that ranked choice voting has completely revolutionized how Southeast Queens looks at politics in local elections. Usually the culture that more than likely candidates with major endorsements are more than likely to win or influence the masses get the votes, where now with ranked choice voting it has opened the minds of voters in a sense where they don't have to feel obligated to vote one way. They can actually take a deeper look at all of the candidates and determine who represents their issues the best. And I think regardless of what the outcome is on February 23rd, that local politics will never be the same, specifically in Southeast Queens," said Latoya Benjamin.
"I think these two races are completely different, and really opposite of each other in regards to how candidates are actually set up to split the vote in this race. However, ranked choice voting has made it that we work together. You know, campaigns are deliberating on a level that I don't think NYC has seen before, and I believe it levels the playing field," said Dr. Shawn Rux.
"I think that ranked choice voting has brought a lot of innovation to my campaign. I think that you get a chance to reach the community in a different way, not necessarily just from getting endorsements, but a lot of candidates decide to pair up and make people number 1, 2, 3. Sometimes that can be a great thing if they're aligned and their message is the same. RCV actually did change the way we started campaigning and educating people. We have some other collaborations that we've been thinking about," said Nicole Lee.
"What we also saw in District 24 was the fact that you had a 12-year incumbent, Jim Genaro, and he had a base. And we also saw very low turnout, extremely low turnout. In District 24 there was about half as much turnout as we saw in 2013's District 31 race. What we have to do is anticipate that there might be lower turnout now in this race than there was in 2013 and then work with that. And even with knowing that, that means we have to stop focusing so much on educating people on just ranked choice. And now we also have to focus on making sure people come out to vote. It doesn't matter who they're voting for, as long as they're voting. But to spend so much money with so low, such a low turnout, I think is a disservice to everybody. And we have to make sure as we spend taxpayers money with our public matching funds, we're getting people out to the polls. So that has been the change in my focus. It's not all about Manny. It's also about just getting people out to the polls while educating them on ranked choice," said Manny Silva.
"I've been an educator for several years, a Special Ed teacher and what I've been doing as I'm speaking to constituents about this new ranked choice voting in New York State, I've been using the previous election as a model, an opportunity to educate constituents on what can happen, why it's important to make sure you not only fill in for all five choices, but what can happen if someone just particularly just puts a bubble for one person. So I've just been using it as an opportunity to as a model and as a way to share and educate constituents as I'm campaigning, referring to what we saw within that district as well," said Latanya Collins.
"It hasn't changed the way I've been campaigning. This is such a diverse group of candidates - it's going to be very special to see because we're all campaigning through a pandemic. A lot of us did not get the endorsement of elected officials. We're all doing friendly campaigns and making sure our voices are out there, but I'm waiting to see the outcome," said Nancy Martinez.
"This is a very different race. The one thing with RCV I would say it's allowing myself as a candidate to help build the bridges of all the other communities out there, whereas in other races you might say someone got an endorsement from this specific Democratic organization, you would throw them under the bus and couldn't have outreach from them again. I think RCV as a candidate over the last number of years, which is helping build the bridges, working with every single community-based organization and stakeholder out there. It creates unity," said Pesach Osina.
David Brand and Brigid Bergin asked the candidates other questions on RCV, including:
- How does the district's diversity influence your campaigning?
- How has your campaign been educating voters on RCV?
- How would you rank your ballot?
RCV allows voters the opportunity to either rank five candidates in order of preference or vote for just one like they always have. If no one wins with a majority (more than 50 percent), the candidate that came in last is defeated and voters' second choice votes get counted and so on until the top vote-getter of the final two is declared the winner. RCV will apply to primaries and special elections for all local offices including City Council, Borough President, Comptroller, Public Advocate and Mayor. Voters overwhelmingly passed RCV in the fall of 2019, with 74 percent of the vote.
A 2018 Common Cause/NY study found that 64 percent of multi-candidate primaries in New York City were won with less than 50 percent of the vote, and not a single race with 4 or more candidates produced a majority winner. Candidates elected through Ranked Choice Voting will always win with a majority of the vote.
The Democracy Fund surveyed voters from ten cities, three where Ranked Choice Voting is in use and seven where it is not. The two year study found that voters in places with Ranked Choice Voting were happier with campaign conduct and experienced less negative campaigning than voters in places that do not use Ranked Choice Voting. A second comparative survey of voters in California in cities that do and do not use Ranked Choice Voting found that a majority supported adopting Ranked Choice Voting to improve election conduct. Other surveys conducted in California found major gains for people of color, increasing representation in majority-minority districts by 17 percent, multi-ethnic districts by 24 percent, and white majority districts by 9 percent. Ranked Choice Voting prevents the "spoiler effect," and encourages coalition building.
The 2019 campaign to bring Ranked Choice Voting to NYC was endorsed by: former Mayor David Dinkins (RIP), Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Senator Robert Jackson, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Zellnor Myrie, State Senator Jessica Ramos, State Senator Gustavo Rivera, State Senator Julia Salazar, State Senator James Sanders, Jr., State Senator Luis Sepúlveda, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Assembly Member Ron Kim, Assembly Member Walter Mosley, Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, Assembly Member David Weprin, Former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, Council Member Costa Constantinides, Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr., Council Member Rafael Espinal, Council Member Ben Kallos, Council Member Brad Lander, Council Member Stephen Levin, Council Member Mark Levine, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Council Member Keith Powers, Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Council Member Carlina Rivera, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Council Member Paul Vallone, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Zephyr Teachout, Cynthia Nixon, Bishop Orlando Findlayter, and Reverend Dr. Ray Blanchette.