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Electoral Reform in New York City

Wednesday July 2021


Josh Barro Columnist, Business Insider; Host, KCRW’s Left, Right & Center
Reihan Salam President @reihan
David Schleicher Professor of Law, Yale Law School

New York City’s first ranked-choice-voting (RCV) primary is in the books. Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa won the Republican mayoral primary from a two-man field. But in a city where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than six to one, the next mayor is very likely to emerge from the Democratic primary, where a plurality ranked Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams as their first choice in the race, with Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia trying to close the gap.

While it will be some time before a winner of the Democratic mayoral primary is declared, New Yorkers are already beginning to see some meaningful impacts from the switch to RCV. For example, primary turnout in 2021 is considerably higher than it was in the last competitive mayoral primary in 2013, even with many absentee ballots yet to be counted. Of course, turnout depends on many factors, but RCV may play an important role because voters are more likely to show up to the polls knowing that they can rank their true preferences.

Despite increased turnout, however, it remains a cause for concern that a relatively small share of the city’s electorate—the roughly one-quarter of registered Democrats who voted in the primary—have all but certainly determined New York City’s next mayor. A city concerned with further improving competition for elected office would go further with reform than New York’s modest step of adopting RCV for primaries and special elections. Were New York to hold its city elections and primaries in the same year as Presidential elections, for example, it would likely boost turnout. Adopting a jungle primary—allowing candidates from various parties to run against one another with top vote getters advancing to the general—could also enhance competition and increase turnout.

Join us on Wednesday, July 7 at 10am EDT as MI’s Director of State and Local Policy Michael Hendrix moderates a panel with MI President Reihan Salam, Yale Law Professor David Schleicher, and Business Insider Columnist and host of KCRW’s Left, Right & Center Josh Barro. The panel will offer analysis on the results of the primary election and discuss further electoral reforms New York City could make in order to improve voter turnout, enhance political competition, and hold public officials to account.