New York City's implementation of a ranked-choice voting (RCV) system has been met with mixed reviews from candidates, political observers and voters, with many disagreeing on whether the system benefited Latinos and other minorities or disenfranchised them.
In 2019, a vast majority of New York City voters voted to adopt RCV in local elections, winning over opponents of the system by a 3-to-1 margin.
Under the RCV system, voters are allowed to choose multiple candidates by order of preference, with candidates that win a majority of votes being declared the winner of the primary.
Historic win for Latino in Brooklyn sheds light on borough's progressives In cases in which no candidate wins a majority of votes, the primary election proceeds to an "instant run-off" in which the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, with his or her ballots are redistributed to voters' second choice candidates.
This year's Democratic primary saw former police captain and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams - an African-American - declared the winner. Among those who have praised the RCV system is Maya Wiley, a lawyer and civil rights activist who came in third after Adams and former NYC sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia.
Wiley said that the system allows lesser-known candidates - many of whom hail from Latino and African-American communities - gain prominence.
In an opinion piece written for the Washington Post, Wiley said that the system allows lesser-known candidates - many of whom hail from Latino and African-American communities - gain prominence. "Simply by running, nontraditional candidates like me can inspire voters," she wrote.
"That gives us a greater chance of winning too." As examples, Wiley pointed to London Breed - the first Black female mayor of San Francisco - and Asian-American Oakland mayor Jean Quan both of whom won "despite odds stacked heavily against them and political machines working for others."
Eli Valentin, a New York-based political consultant, analyst and professor, said that while he agrees with Wiley's assessment of RCV, he disagrees with her assertion that the system had any particular benefits for political outsiders from Latino or African-American communities.
"She was not a fringe candidate. Kathryn Garcia was not a fridge candidate," he said. "I'm not sure there was really any outsider that we were not expecting to be viable that was. I think in principle it could work, to a certain degree." The RCV system, Valentin added, has had mixed reviews from Latino voters on the streets of New York City. "Some didn't like it, and that can mean a couple of things.
People are for the most part reluctant to change, and [RCV] shifts us from our comfort zones," he said. "Some people thought the ballot was too long, and some people told me that they only voted for one candidate, didn't complete the rest and didn't rank all the candidates. This is all anecdotal, but it seems like many people who are not insiders are not convinced."
Several of the other candidates, however, have characterized RCV as a failure.
Eric Adams, for his part, was among the critics, and ahead of the election said that every layer put in place in the voting system "disenfranchises" African-American and Latino voters. "It's not ideal, but it is what is," Valentin said.
"The other side of this is the Board of Elections." In late June, the New York Primary election was thrown into chaos after the city's Board of Elections (BOE) admitted to mistakenly including 135,000 â€˜test' votes in records. "We need to depend on them doing the work the right way. I think that the flip side of this is making sure that we as a city have a Board of Elections that can efficiently and accurately process and tabulate results," Valentin said. Valentin's assessment was shared by a number of Latinos living in the city.
"I thought the new system was a bit confusing, but I get it. The much bigger issue is that I am worried about how counts are voted. The BOE thing was a bit of a disaster," said Milagros Velazquez, a Queens resident. "But if RCV inspires people like [Maya] Wiley said it does, then it's good." Another voter, Ian Figueroa - who lives in Brooklyn - said he didn't approve of the system. "I only voted for one person," he said. "I only wanted one of them."
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