Growing up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, our mother used to say, “If yuh cyaa ketch quaco, yuh ketch him shut” in Jamaican patois, which translates to “If you can’t catch Quaco (someone or something that evades you), grab his shirt or the closest thing to Quaco. When we think of Ranked Choice Voting in New York City, this idiom resonates and rings true because that is what it will be, if you don’t get your first pick, you get your next best option. Yes, ranking your candidates in June will be just that easy!
New York City is currently facing challenging times — from the long-standing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, budget shortfalls, a housing and homelessness crisis, shuttered small and mid-sized businesses — the financial outlook is uncertain. Additionally, more than 300 candidates are running to fill citywide positions like mayor, public advocate, comptroller, as well as borough president, and all 51 City Council seats are up for re-election. The good news is that we get to rank our policymakers from our first to fifth choice.
Most New Yorkers still want to know how Rank Choice Voting (RCV) even works! But before we go there, it is critical to understand how we got to RCV in the first place. Let’s rewind and come again! In November 2019, voters went to the polls and voted on several ballot initiatives. One of those propositions was to implement RCV in 2021 — thank you, voters! RCV is new in New York City, but it wasn’t born yesterday. It is already successfully used across the country in other major cities such as San Francisco, California. It has also been proven to upend status quo loving political systems and usher in more women and racially and ethnically diverse leaders. These are all great attributes, but it’s not magic.
Empowerment will only come with our ability to use and master this new tool effectively — so here is how it works. RCV allows you to rank candidates running for the same seat from your first to your fifth-best choice. So think hard, and make an informed decision about which candidates and policies you want for your first choice and the others. It only applies to primaries and special elections. The races that will use RCV are the ones listed above, including public advocate and the comptroller. If no candidate wins with 50 plus 1 vote, that is when RCV gets activated to avoid highly expensive runoffs during a fiscal crisis. For example, In 2013, New York City held a runoff that cost taxpayers $13 million. As our favorite Jamaican restaurants would infamously say, “We nuh have dat!”
All jokes aside, RCV does away with our old voting system that allowed candidates to be elected to office with less than a 50 percent majority support — meaning a majority of people wanted someone else. In the new system, if no one gets more than 50 percent in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Then, anyone who voted for the eliminated candidate will have their vote redistributed to their second choice. This will continue until a candidate gets more than 50 percent.
Now, RCV does not give you multiple votes. It allows you to reallocate your vote to the next best candidate with good policies if your first choice is eliminated. These are dire times, and we have to be responsible citizens and elect leaders with the wherewithal to implement solutions to our most pressing issues. Check the voter guide to find your candidates and review their platforms. In your district, there may be several candidates. Pick the best options because remember — even if you cyaa ketch Quaco, you can still “ketch him shut!”
Xamayla Rose is a first-generation Caribbean American, a community organizer, and civic engagement expert. She is the co-founder of the Christopher Rose Community Empowerment Campaign. Crystal Rose is an author, small business owner, and poet.