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Brooklyn early voters: Ranked-choice voting is easy to understand, but is ‘time-consuming’

Still, borough voted overwhelmingly in favor of new system

June 21, 2021 Karen Matthews, Associated Press
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The new ranked-choice voting system, which will likely pick the next mayor of New York City, Brooklyn borough president and city comptroller on Tuesday, can be easily understood but requires a lot of work, said several early voters at a Brooklyn polling place.

People who were interviewed after voting early in the upcoming Democratic primary at the Masonic Temple at 317 Clermont Ave. in Fort Greene said they had no trouble learning the ranked-choice system, although some liked it better than others.

Dee Parker, who is 70, said she researched the candidates and ranked five choices in most of the races. “It was too much time spent,” Parker complained. “I didn’t find it difficult, just time-consuming.”

Josh Hartmann, 50, said he was “a big fan” of the new system, even though figuring out his rankings was more work than previous elections have demanded. “I think it gives more diversity in the candidates,” he said.

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Agustin Ricard, 63, a Dominican immigrant voting in his first mayoral primary, said he understood the ranking system but chose not to use it. “I voted for just one candidate for mayor,” he said in Spanish.

In this June 16, 2020, file photo, a voter casts their ballot at a polling station inside the Brooklyn Museum as early voting continues in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The civic ritual of casting a ballot has been disrupted by a global pandemic and dramatically animated by social unrest. And If the results of a frustrating, chaotic primary in Georgia are a measure, the notion of democracy itself will also be on the ballot in the November election. Congress is now considering sending $3.6 billion to states to help facilitate safe and fair elections as part of another round of relief funds to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

Regardless of residents’ reactions at the polls, when ranked-choice voting was proposed in 2019 as an item on the ballot, Brooklynites overwhelmingly voted in favor of it, the Eagle reported at the time. Some 154,520 voters in the borough said “yes” and only 47,456 voted against it.

If the process goes smoothly, it may encourage other cities and states around the U.S. to consider ranked-choice voting, which has been used for years in cities including San Francisco and Minneapolis and has been adopted by the states of Maine and Alaska.

“I hate to quote Frank Sinatra, but if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, which spearheaded the 2019 campaign for ranked-choice.

Rob Richie, the executive director of FairVote, a national organization that promotes ranked-choice voting, said he believes the implementation of the system in New York can accelerate acceptance.

“I think that New York, by being seen as going well, will be very reassuring to people,” Richie said. “If it’s seen as rocky, it’ll just mean people will still ask questions.”

Councilmember Kalman Yeger (D-Southern Brooklyn), a dissenting voice on the ranked-choice voting issue. “It’s designed to be racist,” he says. Eagle file photo

Under New York City’s system, ranked-choice procedures only kick in if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. With such a large field of legitimate contenders, that’s likely to happen this year in the Democratic primary.

For example, if none of the several Democratic mayoral candidates gets half of the first-place votes in the primary, several rounds of ranked-choice tabulation begin. 

The candidate in last place is eliminated. All ballots cast for that eliminated candidate are then reallocated to the No. 2 choices of those voters. The votes are then re-tallied and the candidate in last place is eliminated again. The process repeats until there are two candidates left. The one with more votes wins.

Calculating the winner might take two weeks or more, but Lerner said that’s due to state laws regarding the counting of mail-in ballots — not the ranked-choice system.

The ranked-choice rounds are done by computer and will be “almost instantaneous” once all the eligible mail-in ballots have been determined, she said.

Early voting started June 12 in the primary to replace the term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio.

One high-profile race, the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney, will not be decided by ranked-choice voting since it is a state office, not a city office.

Ranked-choice advocates say the system enhances democracy by giving voters more choices. With ranked-choice, a voter doesn’t have to worry that a vote for their favorite candidate will be “wasted” if that candidate trails several rivals: Their No. 2 or No. 3 choice could win the race.

Despite its widespread appeal, a group of City Council members and community organizations filed a lawsuit last December seeking to block its implementation, arguing that the system was being rolled out too hastily and would violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

The ranked-choice foes have said the new system would have an adverse impact on voters of color.

City Council member Kalman Yeger charged bluntly at a December public hearing, “Ranked-choice voting is racist. It is designed to be racist. It’s intent is to be racist and its result in New York City will be racist. It is designed to prevent minorities from electing their own.”

A judge dismissed the lawsuit last month, but Yeger and other ranked-choice opponents on the City Council have introduced legislation seeking to overturn it.

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