Ranked Choice Confusion

Ideas and Issues
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June 23, 2021

New Orleans     

I’ve followed the campaign for mayor of New York City closely for a couple of reasons.  I’ve known one of the candidates, Maya Wiley, since she was a child, having worked for her father, George Wiley, as an organizer with the National Welfare Rights Organization.  I’ve also known one of the chief reporters on the race, Emma Graves-Fitzsimmons, from cradle to her current job as the key City Hall reporter for the New York Times.  Her parents are lifelong friends and comrades with ACORN and Local 100.  If I miss one of her bylines, I don’t need to worry, my buddy, Orell, will have already texted it to me.  As icing on the cake, I have also known the current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, since I first met him at a New Party organizing meeting in Colorado a million years ago, as well as some of his key staff who were former ACORN organizers in New York City.

So, I can’t vote, but the campaign has captured my interest.  I have no idea if Maya would be a good mayor, though I am very sure in her first campaign for public office, she has run a good one, and even captured the endorsement of our favorite political party, the Working Families Party.  No matter what happens, she has a lot to be proud of, and I know her parents would have been ecstatic at how well she has done.

I also know Emma is a great reporter, so rooting for her to help us find our way out of this thicket has been a pleasure.  The hardest lift for Emma and her team has been explaining “ranked choice” voting.  There have been a ton of articles laying it out.  There have been pieces telling people to breathe deeply and not worry about it.  She has done a great job explaining it.  There was even a recent set of diagrams that told readers how to help the candidate you wanted and at the same time hurt the one you didn’t like.

Nonetheless, I can’t help myself.  I can’t bring myself to like ranked choice voting.

The reasons are simple.  Anything that is this complex and needs this much explaining isn’t worth it for whatever its fans believe.  Confusion at the polls is the same as voter suppression.  Chronic voters will walk miles and stand in the rain waiting for hours to vote.  That’s who they are.  Too many eligible voters vote with their seat, not their feet.  Making voting harder to access has been an anti-democratic Republican strategy.  How can anyone think that the vast majority of voters are looking for a more difficult ballot with an array of choices, where even its supporters are saying they are bringing written notes to the ballot box?

One of ACORN’s largest single-city memberships was in New York City, which is also why I pay close attention.  Putting myself in the shoes of an organizer there, I can’t hardly imagine how difficult it is to run voter education and GOTV for our constituency of lower income and working families in the vast multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual city.  We always had trouble getting them to register and to vote for one person.  Getting them to vote for five people and do so within an organizational program would have to qualify as one of the circles of hell.  And, I’m not even counting how impossible it would ever be to explain to our membership constituency that somehow a number two or number three choice could end up winning the election and being mayor, not because a majority of voters like them, but because more people didn’t hate them.

I’m sure ranked choice supporters meant well.  Some wanted their politics to show up more clearly in their ideological voting.  I get that, but that’s also why we were one of the founders of the Working Families Party.  In New York, there’s a place on the ballot for parties.  There’s fusion.  That’s great.   On the other hand, ranked choice just seems like a way for some small group of elites to dissuade a great mass of voters that voting is a specialized art, not a democratic practice, and they’ll figure it out, and the rest of us don’t need to bother.

We’ll see how this comes out, but I’m not a fan.