Keep your eyes on New York City tonight and tomorrow, as it goes to the polls for the primary election for a new mayor. That sound you’re not hearing is the worry of progressives that the winning candidate just might be Eric Adams, the black Brooklyn borough president who appears to be the most conservative candidate in the field, at least when it comes to law and order issues that—big surprise—are the number one concern of New Yorkers according to recent polls. Can’t imagine why that might be the case. Adams supports a return to the more aggressive policing practices (including “stop and frisk”) that kept crime under control under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Late polls show Adams with the most support in a five-candidate Democratic field, at about 28 percent. The problem with the election is that New York has decided to go in for “ranked choice voting,” a scheme popular with clever “reformers” (who should be known as “deformers”) who otherwise prattle on about “majority rule” but give us a scheme in which candidates who don’t get the most first preference votes might not actually win or advance to a runoff. As the New York Times explains this morning:
The New York City primary is underway, but it could be weeks before we find out who won the top contest: the Democratic race for mayor. . .
Only New Yorkers’ first-choice votes will be counted right away, but their other choices could potentially be decisive. In other words, it cannot be assumed that the candidate who is winning after first-choice votes are counted on Tuesday will end up the winner. Another candidate could get more second- and third-choice votes and overtake the early leader.
This is how San Francisco ended up with Chesa Boudin as their DA.
Among the many problems with ranked-choice voting is that it absolves voters (especially marginal voters) of actually having to choose between competing candidates, and weigh tradeoffs between them. It will also enable the losers and their interest group supporters to claim, with plausibility, that the ultimate winner “lacks a mandate.” Ranked choice voting is an ideal system for the permanent government.
I am guessing ranked choice voting, if more widely adopted, will actually lead to a decrease in voter turnout, as voters will find it confusing and unsatisfying. In a surprising but welcome “even-a-blind-squirrel-finds-an-acorn” moment, the usually liberal columnist Damon Linker has a strong column on the defects of ranked-choice voting:
RCV is an electoral system only someone who likes to geek out to the logic games on the LSAT could love. Voters are asked to rank candidates for office in order of preference: first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on. (The number of ranking slots varies by jurisdiction, as of course does the total number of candidates competing in a given race.) Then the tabulations begin. Instead of simply adding up the number of votes each candidate received and pronouncing the one with the most votes to be the winner, RCV counting begins by adding up all the first-choice votes. Then, if none of the candidates has received a majority, the candidate who received the least first-choice votes gets eliminated and those who gave their first-choice votes to that lowest-scoring candidate have their votes reallocated to their second choice. Then the process gets repeated until one of the candidates ends up with a majority.
As one might imagine, this can get extremely complicated, with election tabulators working through ballots multiple times, or relying heavily on complex computer software to do the work for them. The system is also supremely complicated for voters, who can face dauntingly complex strategic decisions in ranking their choices. . .
The U.S. is a country rife with distrust of institutions and experts, and plagued by growing skepticism about the reliability of elections. The intricacy of RCV tabulations, with officials taking days (or longer) to calculate results behind closed doors and the outcome possibly differing significantly from the stated first-choice preferences of voters, is guaranteed to intensify our disputes around how to fairly and democratically allocate representative offices. Elections and their outcomes need to become simpler and more transparent, not more opaque. RCV is the last thing America needs.