New York City will be using Rank Choice Voting (RCV), a new voting system in the 2020 primary election. With just under two months to go before Tuesday, June 22, 2021 Democratic Primary, there are still many questions and concerns. Ranking Choice Voting might also benefit some Westchester County cities like Mount Vernon, where I reside. Mount Vernon has had as many as six or more candidates in the last two mayoral races, where winner came short of 50% of the vote. In 2015 Richard Thomas won the Democratic Primary with 38% of the vote and Shawyn Patterson-Howard – the city’s first African-American Female Mayor – won with 33% of the vote in 2019. Some residents have been calling for a run-off, like Mount Vernon Republican Chairman Tom Keller and others when candidates do not win by at reach 50% of the vote in the primary. This new Rank Choice Voting could be the answer, but I digress.
Before I go further allow me to briefly explain what Rank Choice Voting is. What is Rank Choice Voting? Basically when you cast your vote instead of just voting for your favorite candidate, you also select you second and third choice, in NYC this year it will be your top 5 candidates.
Ok so you pick your favorite candidate and up to four others in order of choice. If no candidate wins outright – over 50% of the vote – the last place candidate is eliminated and whoever his or her voters picked as their second choice will get the vote. If still no candidate reaches 50% the process continues until one does, with the candidates with the lowest vote count being eliminated.
After reading an article in The City titled How Does Rank Choice Voting Work In New York City, we decided to take a closer look to how this will effect the election in a few districts just outside of Westchester County, in the Bronx, that are made of mostly Hispanic/Latino (54.6%) and Black/African-American (33.3%), according to the United States Census Bureau. We reached out to a few community leaders and voters in Districts 12 -18 in Bronx to get a better understanding of how Bronx voters feel about Rank Choice Voting. Do they trust it? Do they know what it is and understand it? Do they have other concerns about it? We also surveyed a sample of Bronx voters.
Some community leaders are concerned not enough time was spent explaining RCV especially to Seniors.
“They should have held off,” former Director of Community Affairs in the Bronx for NYS Senate, Damaris Moné. a lifelong Bronx resident who has since moved to Mount Vernon, seven blocks from the Bronx border. She is now the founder of the LatinX Summit. “Yes it was voted in Nov. 2019 but no one expected a pandemic. No way to get to seniors, the largest voting block with the most challenge in learning something new. Plus English as a second language voters didn’t have outreach or education.”
Our survey reflects just that, with 81.25% of the people who took the survey feeling like not enough was done to educate the voters to make sure they were well informed about the change. Especially in time for the Special Elections in City Council Districts 11 and 15 in the Bronx, that are among the first to apply the system of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in New York City, Tuesday, March 23rd. The seat for District 11 became vacant when Andrew Cohen left the city council for a spot on the Bronx Supreme Court. There were six candidates on the ballot for the district that includes Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Norwood, Wakefield and Woodlawn. Ritchie Torres left his position in District 15 when he was elected to Congress. Ten candidates were hoping to fill his position for the district serving Fordham, Mount Hope, Belmont, East Tremont, Allerton and Olinville.
Oswald Feliz eventually prevailed. In the special election, it took 10 rounds of counting for Oswald Feliz to break the 50 percent mark in the central Bronx’s 15th district under the city’s Ranked Choice Voting system—he only had 37 percent of the vote in the ninth round—and he ended up with just shy of 1,800 votes in a district housing 60,000 Democrats. With that some voters we spoke with still question of whether anything will be different on June 22 from what occurred on March 23.
“There was not real education before the special election and I’m not seeing much more effort being made to educate people going into the primary,” Roberto, a 67-year-old Latino male shared with Black Westchester in front of VIP Community Services on E. 176th Street which is in District 17. “Most of the people I speak to, most of the people I know, do not understand the new voting system. and there isn’t enough effort being made to explain it.”
Yadhira González-Taylor, Esq., who is running for Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Bronx County in the 2nd Municipal Court District, agrees there hasn’t been enough outreach from the NYC Board Of Elections, especially the differences between municipal races and judicial races
“RCV is allowing for more voter choice regarding municipal races. Choice is good in a democratic society, but I don’t see that there is enough outreach by the New York City Board of Elections in terms of differentiating between municipal races and judicial races which are not subject to RCV,” shares Yadhira González-Taylor, Esq. “I am concerned that this will create chaos at the polls and the voters will be disenfranchised by voter fatigue and confusion. The judge position already appears all the way at the bottom which results in lower voter turnout overall.”
While we have heard from some that they feel it will allow more voter choice, our survey shows that 56.25% of the people do not trust that the new RCV system will lead to fairer elections.
“Democracy is strongest when voices are heard RCV gives voters the opportunity to elect candidates giving voters a consensus at the same time,” Community Activist Sammy Ravelo shares with Black Westchester.
In closing we have determined from our research that the NYC Board Of Elections can do more to educate the public, especially in communities in the Bronx, where English is a second language for some. We reached out to the NYC BOE by email but for input on their outreach but had not heard back from them by time of publication. Our finding produced mixed reviews. There may be no true test to how effective RCV is and the voter’s experience with it until we do an exit poll after the election.