What Is Ranked-Choice Voting? New York City Adopts New Voting Method, but They Are Far From the First

New York has become the largest of 21 U.S. cities to adopt ranked-choice voting, after voters approved a ballot measure.

Shortly after polls closed Tuesday, it was apparent that Ballot Question 1 had passed by a wide margin. With 90 percent of the vote counted, the measure was approved by over 73 percent of voters.

A number of local politicians as well as voting rights activists had endorsed the measure. The New York Times editorial board also endorsed the measure, calling it "a smart, tested reform that would make certain New Yorkers elect candidates who have the support of a majority of voters."

The new system will allow voters to choose up to five ranked choices in primary and special elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president and city council seats. Voters retain the option of voting for only one candidate, but listing their other choices will result in their vote having an impact even if their first choice does not win.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting, also known as "preferential" voting, claim the method results in elections being won by candidates who represent the views of the electorate more closely. Advocates of the system also say it that it eliminates the potential for an election to be decided by a "spoiler" candidate, a concern often aimed at third-party candidates in U.S. presidential elections.

Proponents also claim that the voting method discourages negative campaigning, while forcing candidates to appeal to voters who might not choose them as their first choice.

"You as a candidate have a lot more reasons to have conversations and engagements with people," Rob Richie, president of advocacy group FairVote, told Politico. "The candidates that run traditional campaigns that involve using money and not using people have not done as well."

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New York City is the latest of 21 U.S. cities to adopt ranked-choice voting. Getty

Opponents dispute the idea that it is a more democratic method of electing a candidate and often argue that it is too confusing.

Australia has used ranked-choice voting nationwide since 1918. In many national elections with more than two candidates, the specific variant used in the country is known as "instant-runoff voting." Elections are decided immediately if one candidate is the first choice of 50 percent or more voters. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated, and the first choice votes the eliminated candidate received are transferred to the second choice of the voter who gave top ranking to the losing candidate. The process is repeated until one candidate achieves a majority of votes.

Instant-runoff voting is also used in several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. It is also used in Maine, the only U.S. state to universally use ranked-choice voting.

New York's new law will take effect in January 2021.