Choice voting debate rages on as method spreads
The New York mayor’s first primary decided by preferential vote picked a favorite who led every round, even after a protracted tally marred by a reporting error. In Maine, Democrat Jared Golden trailed in the first round of a ranked choice congressional contest in 2018, but defeated the GOP holder in the next round.
Now, the races for mayor and Minneapolis city council are expected to use the hotly debated system again. As the November election marks its fourth city-wide ranked choice election, the method is gaining momentum across the country.
“It allows people to vote with their hearts and minds,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause / New York and chair of the board of directors of pro-ranked group Rank the Vote NYC. “They don’t need to choose the lesser of two evils.”
But resistance to the system remains deep.
“It takes one person away from a vote,” said MaryAnne Kinney, state representative for Maine. The Republican said she thought the voting system was “extremely confusing.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey used the system to his advantage four years ago, when the one-term city council member defeated Mayor Betsy Hodges. Now Frey fights for his political life as he takes on 16 challengers, including several who band together to use the intricacies of the system to attempt to block the struggling mayor from a second term.
Ten years ago, Minneapolis was one of only ten cities in the United States to adopt preferential voting, according to FairVote, a leading advocate for the method. That number has now grown to more than 40 cities, according to the organization, which touted on its website that the New York City contest was the “largest city-wide RCV election in history. American “.
As the vote in New York City ended on June 22, it took two weeks for a winner to be called up in the city’s hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary. Reporting error in late June involving test ballots led to New York Council of Elections issue a declaration that the priority vote “was not the problem, rather a human error”.
The Associated Press called the race for Eric Adams on July 6. Despite the delay and uproar, the election recorded the city’s highest turnout for a city-wide primary in more than two decades, according to the NYC Campaign Finance Board. But in the process, the division over the electoral system has not subsided.
Lerner said the ranked choice was helping reshape the city’s male-dominated politics by increasing the number of female Democratic candidates for council seats, most of them women of color.
Critics say the June competition only heightened their opposition. Weeks before the primaries, New York City Council member I. Daneek Miller insisted that voters decide to continue using the preferential vote for the city government’s primary and special elections.
“We have said from the very beginning that preferential voting threatens to undermine the voting power of communities of color, and that the successful implementation of a new voting system during a global pandemic is impossible,” Miller said, Democrat and co-chair of New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus, said in a statement last week. “When we finally got the records of votes cast by the electoral council, the data shows an uneven education process and a clear difference between the communities that used ranked voting the most and those that did not. . “
Residents of Minneapolis voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to adopt the preferential vote, then called instant ballots. At the time, supporters said they hoped the change would reduce the chances of a resident’s vote being “wasted” and encouraging a more positive campaign. Critics said they fear it will create confusion and reduce debate by eliminating the primary elections.
In Maine, the preferential vote is used for state and federal primary elections, as well as general elections for federal office, according to the secretary of state’s office.
First used in 2018, the system came under scrutiny later that year when Democratic challenger Golden toppled Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Despite Poliquin’s narrow lead in the first round of the general election results, Golden won the seat after the elimination of third-party candidates.
“Ranked voting improves representation because it gives voters real choices,” said Maine Secretary of State Sheenna Bellows. A strong supporter of the method, Bellows said she believes “ranked choice voting has achieved exactly what we hoped for here in our state. It allows voters to vote on their principles rather than party politics.”
As the ranked choice gains momentum, the change has seen setbacks. Last year, voters in Massachusetts rejected a statewide ballot question on preferential voting. The system has taken hold in other parts of Minnesota. St. Paul began using the method locally in 2011, while the ranked choice was first used in St. Louis Park in 2019 for city council elections. Last year, voters in Minnetonka and Bloomington approved the use of the voting method.
In other pockets of the country, the ranked choice is more familiar. In California, the system is used in the San Francisco election to choose many local offices, according to the city’s website, with Oakland and Berkeley also being the earliest examples of the method implemented in the West.
In another upcoming major test of the system, Alaska is working to implement ranking voting for the 2022 general election in federal and state elections. Voters narrowly approved the change last November as part of a larger ballot measure that also includes a non-partisan open primary system.
“The hope with choice voting and open primaries is that you get people who are a lot more focused and a lot more concerned with political issues as opposed to political issues,” said Jason Grenn, executive director of pro choice. class. Alaskans for Better Elections group, which served a term in the Alaska House as an independent.
Asked about the ranking vote as he left the US Senate floor one night, Alaska GOP Senator Dan Sullivan said he did not support the measure, adding that “no one understood it” .
“To be honest, a lot of people in Alaska are confused,” Sullivan said.
Editor Liz Navratil contributed to this report.