The Center for Urban Research Assesses the Impact of Ranked Choice Voting in New York City

July 11, 2022

GC Press Release

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NEW YORK, JULY 11, 2022— In a pathbreaking study commissioned by Common Cause New York and Unite America Institute, researchers from the Center for Urban Research examined the first use of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) a year ago in the June 2021 primary elections in New York City.  They find that RCV largely accomplished its goal of giving voters a wider array of options for expressing their preferences than did the runoff system and voters generally understood how to use it.

Key takeaways are:

  • New Yorkers understood and took advantage of Ranked Choice Voting
  • Yang and Adams voters were far more likely than those favoring other candidates to rank only them
  • Yang’s elimination in Round 7 and the transfer of his votes was pivotal in moving Garcia ahead of Wiley and increasing Adams’ lead, while Wiley’s elimination brought Garcia much closer to Adams, but just enough of her votes transferred to Adams to enable him to prevail
  • Only 14.9 percent of the ballots ended up being inactive in the final round

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The researchers included Distinguished Professor John Mollenkopf, Director of the Center for Urban Research; Steven Romalewski, Director, CUNY Mapping Service; Valerie Bauer of the Mapping Service; Kenisha White, Master of Arts in International Migration; and Political Science PhD candidates Laura Tamman and Ken Silverman. The just-published study is titled “The Impact of Ranked Choice Voting on the Democratic Primary Elections of 2021.”

The study reports on a quantitative analysis of election results and uses maps to highlight the main geographic patterns in the RCV preferences of the electorate and in-depth qualitative interviews with Democratic primary campaign decision-makers about how RCV influenced their strategies.

“Our study concludes that New Yorkers understood the RCV process and utilized it to express a wide array of preferences,” said Professor Mollenkopf.  “While opponents of RCV voiced concerns that New Yorkers would struggle to understand the new electoral system, a higher percentage of voters utilized the ranking option than other municipalities that use the same system. 86.6% of voters ranked two or more candidates compared to the 77% of voters who typically do so in other RCV elections across the country.”

RCV provided an incentive for candidates to engage more respectfully with their competitors and they were less likely to “go negative.” The study concluded that RCV led campaigns to reach out to a broader group of voters than the runoff system. The most common refrain from City Council campaigns was that RCV presented the opportunity to “continue the conversation” even with voters who expressed a preference for another candidate.

The quantitative and the qualitative results both suggest that cross-endorsements were underutilized.  “Had more cross-endorsements had taken place among the leading candidates, or if endorsing groups and individuals had been more aggressive in advocating slates of ranked candidates, this might well have changed the outcome,” Professor Mollenkopf concluded. “The cost of this reluctance in the 2021 primary mayoral election was borne by the more progressive candidates, which ultimately weakened their collective influence on the election.”

About the Center for Urban Research

The Center for Urban Research at The CUNY Graduate Center organizes basic and applied research addressing the core issues facing New York and other large cities, often in partnership with foundations, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and other clients. It also trains students in research techniques and presents public forums on urban policy issues.

The Center’s research and policy analyses focus primarily within the areas of demographics, immigration, community organization, economic and workforce development, educational equity and access, labor markets, crime, and political participation. We work at scales ranging from individuals, their households, and their neighborhoods to cities and metropolitan regions, often with a national or international comparative perspective.

About the Graduate Center of The City University of New York

The CUNY Graduate Center is a leader in public graduate education devoted to enhancing the public good through pioneering research, serious learning, and reasoned debate. The Graduate Center offers ambitious students nearly 50 doctoral and master’s programs of the highest caliber, taught by top faculty from throughout CUNY — the nation’s largest urban public university. Through its nearly 40 centers, institutes, initiatives, and the Advanced Science Research Center, the Graduate Center influences public policy and discourse and shapes innovation. The Graduate Center’s extensive public programs make it a home for culture and conversation.