OPINION: Ranked choice voting can help elect more women candidates



By Betsy Gotbaum and Meridith Maskara

Special to the Eagle

New York City is number one in the country in many areas—we boast the most diverse population, tallest building, and best bagels. Yet, when it comes to our elections, New York City is failing—both in terms of engagement and representation.

In the 2018 midterm elections, 47 percent of eligible voters turned out nationwide, but only 37 percent of eligible NYC voters showed up at the polls. That 37 percent was the highest turnout in years. In the 2014 midterms, an abysmal 20% of eligible NYC voters participated

And, those elections have created a government that does not reflect the people it serves—less than 22% of the NYC Council is female compared with 52% of our population. It is troubling that young New Yorkers are told the government represents them, and that they too can lead some day, but when young girls look at our elected officials, it’s clear that the path to elected office for women is an uphill battle.

Early this year, the State Legislature took important first steps to revitalize democracy throughout New York State by passing a series of long overdue reforms. These include same day voter registration, no excuse absentee voting, consolidating federal and state primaries and early voting, which New Yorkers can take advantage of for the first time this fall. 

On the ballot in New York City this fall is another reform that would increase turnout and make our democracy more representative of all New Yorkers: Ranked Choice Voting.

Here’s how Ranked Choice Voting works: Rather than just choosing one candidate on their ballot, voters can rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote on the first tally, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. The ballots cast in favor of the eliminated candidate are then counted for the candidate who was ranked second on that ballot. This continues until two candidates remain until one candidate has a majority of the vote.

In most elections in New York City, the winner of the primary gets less than 50% of the vote. That means candidates can focus on a small group of voters rather than trying to build a large coalition of supporters. With Ranked Choice Voting, voters have more choices, and candidates will be forced to go beyond their base and appeal to a broader spectrum. This will foster more positive, issue-focused campaigns, and means our elected officials will be accountable and responsive to more of their constituents. 

This approach has clear benefits related to civic engagement and representation, which have been demonstrated in other cities and states that have adopted Ranked Choice Voting.

According to FairVote, when San Francisco implemented Ranked Choice Voting, it increased turnout citywide by 2.7 times, and in the city’s six most racially and socio-economically diverse neighborhoods turnout quadrupled. 

Ranked Choice Voting also has benefits for candidates who are traditionally underrepresented, including women.

According to data collected by RepresentWomen, women make up an average 50% share of city councils in cities using Ranked Choice Voting versus an average of 25% in those with traditional voting. And, 56% of cities with Ranked Choice Voting have women mayors versus the average of 20% in the 100 most populous cities in the US.

Ranked Choice Voting has many benefits—including saving taxpayer money. Most importantly, it will improve civic engagement and representation of women in elected office, making our democracy work better.  New Yorkers should vote Yes on Question 1 to bring Ranked Choice Voting to our city elections. 

Betsy Gotbaum is the Executive Director of Citizens Union. Meridith Maskara is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York.