OPINION: Ranked choice voting would fail immigrants and communities of color

Voting booths at a polling place in Ridgewood during the 2019 primary.  Eagle  photo by David Brand

Voting booths at a polling place in Ridgewood during the 2019 primary. Eagle photo by David Brand

By Adrienne Adams,  I. Daneek Miller and Francisco Moya

This election season New Yorkers will weigh in on five ballot questions. For our city’s immigrants and communities of color there is no decision more important than voting NO on ballot question #1.

Ballot question #1 would drastically alter the City Charter and our election system. It would create “Ranked Choice Voting”, or “RCV”, an unusual and confusing electoral system that would ask voters to select tiers of preference for candidates running for various elected offices. This would replace our current system, where you simply vote for your favored candidate. 

To complicate matters more, RCV would apply to local primary and special elections and their run-offs, but not general elections. It would only apply to Mayoral, Public Advocate and City Council races, not state or federal ones. 

Are you still with us?

It is unclear who truly stands to gain from this complication of the electoral process. But it is clear who loses: immigrants and communities of color.

The majority of our elected officials today are from these two groups. Run-off elections over the past decade have also held true to demographic reality: Tish James over Dan Squadron for Public Advocate. John Liu over David Yassky for Comptroller.

This should not be a surprise to anyone — the majority of New Yorkers are people of color. 

Yet lobbyists for RCV are crying out that our democracy is a failure. They claim that we do not know what is best for ourselves. And they’re backed by hedge fund investors who have poured nearly $2,000,000 into this campaign. 

Their solution? That a voting system used in places like Minneapolis, MN and Basalt, CO — places that don’t look like us or live like us — is somehow the right fit for New York City.

The evidence suggests otherwise. Local political scientists have concluded that RCV benefits “safe” second choice candidates – whites and establishment candidates — and hurts the ability of Black and Latino candidates to be seen as viable.

Such appears to have been the case in Minneapolis: The very first RCV mayoral election saw the favored candidate – backed by the city's large African immigrant community – lose to a white candidate backed by whiter and more affluent support. Meanwhile, the race also failed to increase voter turnout or bring historically disenfranchised voters into the democratic process.

Ranked Choice Voting was the wrong choice there and it’s the wrong choice here. To paraphrase a great leader of our democracy: there is nothing wrong with New York that cannot be fixed by what is right with New York.

For those minority communities, whites and voters of any type interested in fairness and our democracy, on behalf of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, we urge you to vote NO to ballot question #1 and Ranked Choice Voting.

Councilmembers I. Daneek Miller, Adrienne Adams and Francisco Moya represent neighborhoods in Queens. All three are members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, which Miller co-chairs.

Photos by WIlliam Alatriste via City Council/Flickr; Emil Cohen via City Council/Flickr; Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane