Ranked Choice Voting Debacle

Ideas and Issues
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July 2, 2021

New Orleans    

Elections in New York City have always been sui generis.  Petitions and candidates would roundly be rejected for spurious reasons.  Rules from the Election Commission could change with the weather.  In every election cycle, ACORN’s political department had two sets of standards and rules.  One that worked across the country, and one that only applied to New York City.  Now we can put all of those problems aside, including blaming the election authorities for some of the problems, because the first-time experience with ranked choice voting (RCV, as they call it) has been a disaster.

To remind everyone, there were some thirteen candidates in the Democratic primary and two in the Republican.  Voters were able to rank up to five choices.  The in-person voting on election day would only determine the winner if one candidate polled more than 50%.  If not, there would be a series of computer-driver elimination rounds to reapportion votes based on the voters ranking by eliminating the voters from the bottom on up and redistributing them accordingly.

The election was on June 22nd.  The largest vote getter was 10% ahead of the 2nd and 3rd candidates, although he didn’t poll even one-third of the first-place votes, and the two candidates trailing were around one-fifth in polling as favorites of the voters.  On the eighth day after the election, the first reports of the algorithmic distribution of votes tightened the race among the top three with the leader still ahead by 2% points and the former third place candidate now in second place by a hair.  That vote was thrown out because the commission in a huge boo-boo had tallied 135,000 votes used to test the software with the rest of the voters.  No one on the payroll noticed that the count they were reporting was more than 100,000 more than the number of total voters they had reported a bit over a week earlier.  Simple math.  That error is on them.  Ten days after the election, having cleaned up the mess, in what they reported was the 9th round, the race had tightened in much the same way.  Only now for reasons beyond me – this is also a demerit on the election authorities – are they counting the more than 100,000 absentee ballots.

The candidates, the press, and random observers are calling for patience, because the final tally and determination on who will be the Democratic nominee for mayor and the likely winner in November, won’t be known until mid-July.  That’s ridiculous and that’s a red mark on the ranked vote system.  There’s almost no conceivable way that voters wouldn’t prefer to be watching the two leading candidates appeal to them in a runoff, rather than living through the speculation about who will win and what happened to their votes, much less how nobody’s overwhelming favorite is going to govern their unruly city.

And, there’s no end to the speculation and presentation of alternative scenarios as people game the count of the absentee voters to project whether the first past the poll candidate will win or the second or third might somehow in the magic and mayhem of computer chaos still pull it out.  It’s no surprise that there are many and louder voices calling for another referendum to replace ranked choice voting.  The papers all call this a “debacle.’  This is past ridiculous, and it beggar’s democracy.  It’ll root for a revote on RCV, no matter who wins as mayor.