How Voting in Choice May Affect New York’s Mayoral Race


The competition for the Democratic Party nomination for New York City mayor is wide open. It is the kind of race that the ranked selection voting is intended to help, by allowing voters to support their best choice without losing the opportunity to influence the most viable candidates.

It’s also the kind of race that might test one of the major risks of ranked-of-choice voting: a phenomenon known as poll exhaustion. The ballot is said to be “spent” when every candidate ranked by a voter is excluded and thus this ballot is no longer a factor affecting the election.

With many successful candidates and most New Yorkers using the ranked choice for the first time, all components are ready for a large number of spent ballots. If the race is close enough, that is a factor that may decide until the election.

This possibility does not necessarily mean that New Yorkers are worse off voting for the ranked choice. But the risk of running out of ballot papers is an underestimated reason because an ranked vote does not always realize its purported merits.

Ranking voting was carried out by ranked selection by cities and other local governments in eight states, and at the state level in Maine. It will be used in the New York City Hall race for the first time this year, allowing voters to rank up to five candidates in order of their preferences.

If no candidate receives a majority of the votes of the first preference, the race will be decided by an immediate run-off: the candidate who received the least number of votes is disqualified, and the votes of those who favored the candidate who was disqualified will be transferred to the second place for those voters options. The process continues until one candidate wins the majority of the remaining votes.

But such a system is complicated. Voters are being asked to make far more decisions than they usually need to make, with a new and unusual set of rules. As a result, not many will rank the maximum number of candidates. It creates the possibility that the election result will be different if each voter fills out a full ballot.

A recent Manhattan Institute / Public Opinion Strategies poll shows indications that ballot depletion may play a significant role in New York’s mayoral elections. The poll, which asked voters to complete the full ballot in the ranking, found that Eric Adams is ahead of Andrew Yang in the simulated instant run-off, at 52 percent to 48 percent. Behind the top scores lies a group of 23 percent of respondents who ranked some candidates but did not rate Mr. Yang or Mr. Adams. If these voters preferred Mr. Yang, the poll result might have been different.

The 23 percent poll exhaustion rate would be very high, but it wouldn’t be without precedent. In the 2011 San Francisco mayoral election race, 27 percent of the vote did not dispose of any of the two finalists candidates. On average, 12 percent of the vote was exhausted in the three special rank-selection elections for city council held this year in New York City.

Even a lower percentage of the exhausted votes can be crucial in a close race. A similar case is the special mayoral election in San Francisco in 2018, when the London Breed prevailed by a narrow margin of one percentage point. In that race, 9 percent of the vote did not rank Mrs. Breed nor runner-up Mark Leno.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Leno would have won an election if each voter had ranked one of the final candidates. Mr. Leno, for example, won the transferred votes – those made by voters who did not choose Mrs. Breed or Mr. Leno as their first choice – by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent; He would have won if the spent ballots had expressed a similar preference.

The large number of exhausted ballot papers in rank-selection elections may be a bit surprising, given that the formula is supposed to ensure that voters do not waste their ballot papers by supporting non-viable candidates. In the typical case, ranked selection would allow voters to support a secondary party candidate, such as Ralph Nader, without the risk of endangering their preferred major party candidate, who could safely rank second.

But voters will not always have the same clarity about the candidates who will run in the final round of voting as they would have in the 2000 presidential election. When Mr. Nader occupied the third place As the candidate of the Green Party, about three million votes. Even without an ordered choice vote, primary elections are often characterized by volatile and multi-candidate areas where clear preferences are not as clear as Democrat versus Republican in a general election.

For a good measure, ranked choice voting tends to increase the number of options available to voters, confusing what would otherwise have been a relatively straightforward final choice. Interest groups and ideological factions have less incentive to coalesce behind a single candidate in rank-selection elections, because they know that their constituents can still integrate behind one candidate on Election Day.

Partly as a result, the number of exhausted ballots tends to be highest in wide open races, where voters have the least clarity about a possible final match.

In the three special elections for New York City Council seats in which the ranking option was used, exhausted ballot numbers were higher in races without a strong candidate on the first ballot. When the main candidate received only 28 percent of the vote on the first ballot in the 15th district, for example, 18 percent of the electorate was not ranked as one of the top candidates.

In the mayoral primaries, Democrats in New York City today cannot be sure of a possible final. There are currently 13 Democratic candidates in the race, of whom at least five can be considered at the top level. Andrew Yang, the leading candidate in opinion polls for most of the year, has been holding back in recent polls. Others, like Catherine Garcia, seem to be on the rise. With so much uncertainty, even the political junkies may not be entirely sure if their ballot will have an effect in the final round.

Voters who are not political addicts face a different kind of challenge. Voting by ranked selection takes a lot. It requires voters to make informed judgments about more candidates than they would if they would. Less informed voters may be less likely to arrive at such judgments and thus may be less likely to rank the maximum number of candidates, which increases the likelihood that one of the last candidates will not be included on the ballot.

Other voters may not fully understand how ranked selection works. at NY1 / Ipsos In an April poll, only 53 percent of potential voters said they were very familiar with the choice of the arrangement, and 28 percent said they were not comfortable using it.

According to 2004 a study By the Institute for Public Research, only 36 percent of San Francisco voters who did not fully understand the choice of ranking ranked the maximum number of candidates in the 2004 mayoral race, compared to 63 percent who said they understood it at least well.

To take full advantage of ranked selection, voters need to know something that often goes unmentioned: It works with an instant run-off. This may seem obvious, but it was not mentioned on the ballot paper, it was not mentioned in the educational materials that the city sent (and received at my address), and it was not confirmed at the election site in the city. There is no explanation for why the candidates are ranked.

Without any explanation of how their ballot papers are translated into electoral results, voters may not understand why it is in their interest to arrange the maximum number of candidates.

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