Minority pols seek to delay NYC Ranked Choice Voting law

November 21, 2020 

The City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus wants to postpone administering New York City’s new Ranked-Choice Voting system for citywide and council races in 2021, The Post has learned.

They fear inadequate outreach and education during the pandemic about the complex new voting system will disenfranchise minority voters.

Fifteen members of the minority caucus sent a Nov. 19 letter to Council Speaker Corey Johnson recommending a “pause” in the law — with the goal of delaying implementation of Ranked-Choice Voting for up to two years.

The new voting system was overwhelmingly approved by city voters in a 2019 referendum, making it a city law to take effect in 2021.

The Council and mayor would have to approve a new law to delay its implementation, Queens Councilman Daneek Miller, co-chairman of the caucus,  told The Post Saturday.

“We are not subverting the will of the people. There are a whole bunch of people who are going to be disenfranchised because there has been no outreach,” Miller said.

In the letter, Miller and the caucus claimed the city Board of Elections is not up to the task of administering the new voting system in a matter of months following snafus in handling early voting and mail-in ballots.

“We have no confidence in BOE’s ability to acclimate to a system of Ranked-Choice Voting’s scale and complexity, particularly within a compressed time frame already constrained by the pandemic, given its abysmal record of performance,” the letter co-signed by Miller said.

“Its history of failure was underscored this year by a series of embarrassing incidents that many New Yorkers of color rightly perceive as akin to voter suppression: prolonged delivery of absentee ballots, mailing of erroneous absentee ballot envelopes, several hours long waits at poll sites. … Rather than forge ahead with BOE’s slipshod implementation process, we have an obligation to pause this transformation,” the lawmakers said.

Speaker Johnson declined comment.

The city Board of Election countered there’s no reason for delay.

“The Board of Elections in the City of New York is ready to implement Rank Choice Voting and begin a public education campaign and poll worker training immediately following the December City Council Special Election [to fill a vacant Bronx council],” said BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez.

“Although the Campaign Finance Board is mandated by the City charter for the voter education portion of Rank Choice Voting, the Board has plans for a robust campaign to educate the City’s over 5 million voters,” she said.

Under the RCV system, a candidate who receives a simple majority — 50 percent plus one vote — wins the election outright. But if there is no majority winner, voters’ second or third choices are tabulated to help pick a winner.

For example, the last-place candidate would be eliminated first, and any voter who had that candidate as his or her top choice would have that vote transferred to their second choice. The ranking process continues for the remaining candidates until a winner is determined.

The system avoids the need for costly run-off elections.

A special election will be held on Feb. 2 to fill the vacancy for the Council seat in Eastern Queens because Rory Lancman stepped down to take a job in the Cuomo administration. Special elections will be held in March to fill seats vacated after Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres was elected to Congress and Queens Councilman Donovan Richards was elected borough president.

Ranked Choice voting is scheduled to be used in those races as well as in the primary races for mayor and other citywide and council races in the spring, city BOE officials said in recent public meetings.

A top state education official opposed any attempt to delay implementation of the RCV law.

“The law is long overdue. Rank Choice Voting provides a fairer and better outcome,” said Doug Kellner, co-chairman of the state Board of Elections.

Supporters say the RCV system discourages negative campaigning and increases civility and coalition building because candidates must appeal to a broader group of voters and not just their natural base of supporters.

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