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Ranked-choice voting could weigh heavily in primary

Joe Dziemianowicz :: Crain's New York Business

Being everybody’s favorite candidate isn’t the only way to win an election anymore. Snagging enough second-choice votes on the June 22 primary ballot could be a successful path to Gracie Mansion.

New York voters can pick up to five candidates in order of popularity under the newly adopted ranked-choice voting system. If none of the mayoral hopefuls receive 50% of the vote, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated, and their votes go to the one picked second on voters’ ballots. This continues until only two candidates remain.

“Ranked-choice voting is going to work for any candidate who understands it,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/New York and head of Rank the Vote. “The successful candidate is the candidate that is ranked in the top three consistently.”

Being in the top three keeps a candidate in the running as votes are transferred in successive rounds of ranked-choice counting.

“While everybody wants to be a strong first choice, if they fall short on that, it’s possible that being a second choice could lead [them] to the next round of voting and eventually a win,” said James Campbell, a University at Buffalo political science professor who has researched ranked-choice voting and has lived in areas that already have used the system.

Provided there’s a broad distribution of No. 1 choices so that nobody secures a majority in the first round of vote counting, “pretty much anything can happen,” said Craig Burnett, associate professor of political science at Hofstra University.

“Ranked choice uses a transfer of votes, so if you’re not someone’s first choice, you want to be second choice,” Burnett said.

Being a familiar face —or one who’s making strides to become known through advertising—is an important variable when it comes to landing coveted first- and second-choice positions.

“Voters have their favorites, but then they feel compelled to add some other people, so they’re going to go on the basis of name recognition,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.

Being a known quantity in city politics works to one’s advantage, she said.

In addition to being a household name, a candidate who “has relationships with a lot of groups,” as well as proven experience, can loom large in ranked-choice voting, Democratic political analyst Bruce Gyory pointed out.

“There’s a certain number of voters—and I suspect it’s a majority—who like experience,” Gyory said.

It’s important for a campaign to avoid controversies that could drain votes, he added.

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