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Is ranked choice the best choice?
Buoyed by the Democratic takeover of the State Senate and the possibility of Albany finally passing real voting reform, the good-government group Common Cause is ramping up efforts on behalf of one change not currently on most people’s radar:
Ranked choice voting.
It’s designed to produce outcomes that better reflect the will of the people in contests with three or more candidates. One common example: Two candidates split the vote of those who largely agree with both, allowing a less popular candidate with a different philosophy to win with less than 50 percent of the total vote. One famous example: The 2000 presidential election, where voters who went with consumer advocate Ralph Nader allegedly “threw” the election to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.
In ranked choice voting, a voter ranks candidates from first to last on the ballot. If no one gets a majority on the first ballot, the last-place candidate is eliminated and his/her votes are reallocated to the rest of the field based on the second preference indicated on those ballots. In the 2000 case, with neither Bush nor Gore exceeding 50 percent in the critical Florida vote in particular, Nader would have been eliminated and his votes reallocated with, some say, the result being that Gore would have won because he logically would have been the second preference on more Nader ballots.
Common Cause New York made the case for ranked choice voting Tuesday night during a forum at New York Law School. “Folks were very attentive, very positive, there was a lot of energy in the room,” executive director Susan Lerner told The Point.
Common Cause has a potential cause célèbre looming — the race for New York City public advocate. Seven Democrats have said they’re running in the special election to be held early next year. The field could end up including 10 to 15 candidates.
“Whoever wins is likely to win with a relatively small percentage,” Lerner said. “Even if it’s an 18 percent plurality, that person will be the next public advocate.”
The problem is especially prevalent in primaries. In New York City, for example, two-thirds of the 121 primaries from 2009 to 2017 had at least three candidates, according to Common Cause. And nearly two-thirds of those multicandidate primaries were won with less than 50 percent of the vote; nearly a third were won with less than 40 percent of the vote. Bill de Blasio won the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor with 41 percent of the vote.
Ranked choice voting is being used to decide a congressional race in Maine that had four candidates. Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin had a narrow lead over Democrat Jared Golden but with less than 50 percent of the vote. So the state is reallocating the votes of the last-place finisher and, if necessary, the third-place finisher, and exit polling indicates that Golden was the second preference for most of those voters and is likely to win in the end.
One other advantage of ranked choice voting: It eliminates runoffs mandated in some places when a candidate fails to win a majority. That saves money. And that’s always a winner, whether your vote is ranked or not.
Wolff gets his due
The House of Representatives returned to work Tuesday night, a week after a riveting national election that gave the Democratic Party a sizable majority that confirms a blue wave did, in fact, occur.
Nancy Pelosi spent the day trying to corral the new members into handing her the speaker’s gavel, and the losing Republicans were bitterly fighting over how much clout the extreme Freedom Caucus should have in their conference.
In a Capitol full of drama and plot twists, the first piece of legislation called for a vote in the lame-duck session was H.R. 6064 . . . get ready for it . . . naming the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge for former Congressman Lester Wolff, who served from 1964 to 1981. Sponsored by Rep. Tom Suozzi, who now represents the core of what was Wolff’s Nassau County North Shore district, the bill passed 385 to 4.
Wolff’s advocacy for federal designation was part of a strategy to thwart Robert Moses and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller from building a bridge from Oyster Bay to Rye in the early ’60s. Wolff, who turns 100 in January, is the oldest living former member of Congress.
Florida’s election kerfuffle
Long before election night, election officials in Florida were predicting there would be big problems processing returns because Florida in 2018 did what New York refused to do in 2017. The Sunshine State convened its Constitutional Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, and came up with eight amendments to put before the people. Then another four constitutional amendment questions were added to the ballot, through citizen petitions, a method of creating referendums not permitted in New York.
The result, once local referendums were added for many of Florida’s cities and counties, was ballots that stretched to five double-sided pages in some places. That confused voters and now it’s making the machine recounts underway for the state’s U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races a lot harder. And if the state has to go to hand recounts next week, officials say the cumbersome nature of the ballots will make the process more daunting.
The Point wondered just what issues a state whose citizens got a con-con and can petition questions onto the ballot offered up. Here are the ones New Yorkers can relate to:
- Florida has property-tax homestead exemptions (think STAR, but for everyone) exempting some of the value of owner-occupied homes from property taxes. Amendment 1 would have increased that exemption to include another $25,000 in value, but it failed.
- Amendment 3, which passed, gives voters the right to vote on the opening of any new casino.
- Amendment 4, which passed, restores voting rights to all felons who have served their sentences except murderers and sex offenders.
- Amendment 5, which passed, demands a two-thirds vote in the Florida House and Senate for any increase in state taxes.
- Amendment 9, which passed, bans both off-shore drilling in state-controlled waters off Florida’s coast . . . and vaping in any place where smoking is prohibited.
- And Amendment 12, which passed, bans elected officials and government employees from lobbying the state and federal government during and six years after their terms of employment.
So it seems Florida’s experience with amending its constitution fuels the arguments of those who supported a constitutional convention in New York, and those who opposed one. They passed some pretty good laws, but they did it with an ungodly mess of a process.
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