Today, the Partnership for New York City submitted comments on changes to the New York City Charter in support of ranked choice voting, which will increase fairness in the city’s election system.
Thank you, Chair Benjamin and members of the committee, for the opportunity to comment on changes to the New York City Charter related to ranked choice voting. The Partnership for New York City represents the city’s business leaders and largest private sector employers. We work together with government, labor and the nonprofit sector to maintain the city’s position as the pre-eminent global center of commerce, innovation and economic opportunity.
The Partnership urges the Commission to include ranked choice voting for all city primaries and special elections in the ballot questions to be submitted to the voters in November 2019. The cost of administering elections and the public funding of candidates mean that all taxpayers, including the business community, have an interest in ensuring the city’s election system is fair and achieves the goal of electing officials who represent their constituents. The city spends a considerable amount of money supporting elections. In 2017, the year of the last mayoral election, the city spent $17.7 million in public payments to candidates and nearly $30 million to administer the election. More recently, the city provided $7.2 million in matching funds to 11 candidates for the Public Advocate special election.
Despite all of this funding, the outcome of city elections is not necessarily a true reflection of the will of the majority of the electorate. New York City often has very low voter turnout, particularly for primaries and local offices. For example, only 12% of active voters participated in the primaries in 2017. Local candidates often win without a majority – the successful candidate in the recent special election for Public Advocate won with approximately 35% of the vote. As a result, candidates may rely on a relatively narrow spectrum of the electorate to give them a plurality rather than striving to win the support of a broad constituency.
Ranked choice voting pushes a candidate to try to reach beyond their base in order to attract more voters. The result is elections where the winners more truly represent their districts. Election of office holders with a broad constituency is likely to inspire larger voter turnout. We are hopeful that this system will improve the civility of campaigns. Finally, ranked choice voting may also save the city money. At a minimum, it would avoid expensive run-off elections like the 2013 Democratic primary run-off for Public Advocate which cost more than $11 million.
Ranked choice voting has already been successfully implemented internationally (Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Malta, Northern Ireland and Scotland), in the state of Maine and in other U.S. localities (e.g., San Francisco, Minneapolis and Santa Fe). We hope you will allow New York City voters to choose ranked choice voting in November. This is a good first step toward electoral reforms that are needed in New York.