New York City voters on Tuesday passed a ballot measure that will make the city the most populous place in the U.S. to adopt a ranked-choice voting system.
The new system, which passed with overwhelming support, will let people rank up to five candidates in order of preference, rather than picking just one to support.
Other places, including Maine and San Francisco, already use ranked-choice voting systems, but New York City would be employing the system on a far larger scale, with millions more votes to count.
The system will be used in select primaries and special elections starting in 2021.
The city’s referendum on early voting was among the more noteworthy races in relatively quiet but still groundbreaking election season in New York as voters across the state cast ballots in county and municipal races.
With no federal or statewide contests on the ballot, turnout was expected to be low, but this election served as a rehearsal of sorts for next year’s blockbuster presidential contest.
It marks the first time New York allowed early voting, and officials said roughly a quarter-million ballots were cast around the state between Oct. 26 and the conclusion of the early voting period Sunday.
Elsewhere in the state, voters were electing county executives and comptrollers, including on Long Island, where Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, defeated county’s Republican comptroller, John Kennedy, to win reelection.
In the one state Senate race behind held in New York, Republican George Borrello, the Chautauqua county executive, defeated recent college graduate Austin Morgan, a Democrat, in a special election for seat in the southwestern most corner of New York. The office was left vacant when Republican Cathy Young resigned for a job at Cornell University.
In Monroe County, in central New York, incumbent District Attorney Sandra Doorley, a Republican, was leading Democratic challenger Shani Mitchell. That race that drew attention after a political action committee affiliated with liberal billionaire George Soros spent more than $800,000 on ads supporting Mitchell.
The ranked-choice system adopted in the New York City referendum would only make a difference in races with more than two candidates. If no candidate gets more than 50% of first-place votes, it would create an instant runoff in which the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and the votes of people who favored that candidate are transferred to their second choice. That process continues until one candidate gets over 50%.
Rob Richie, the executive director of national advocacy group FairVote, hailed the ballot measure’s passage.
“New York City voters showed confidence in growing evidence that ranked-choice voting can strengthen local democracy, eliminate the spoiler effect in large fields of candidates, and allow fresh energy to enter races while making sure that candidates who win do so with majority support from the community,” Richie said in a statement.
Opponents of ranked-choice voting say it can be confusing.
New York City voters also adopted four other ballot measures, including one to expand the size of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police watchdog agency, and to broaden the board’s jurisdiction to include some cases of suspected lying by police officers.
The Orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn largely voted against all five measures, as urged by the four Brooklyn Orthodox legislators — Councilman Chaim Deutsch, state Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, state Sen. Simcha Felder and Councilman Kalman Yeger — who said the measures would “waste money, make our streets more dangerous and give our community less say in our city government.”
In other voting in New York City, Democrat Melinda Katz won the Queens district attorney’s race and Democrat Jumaane Williams was reelected to the New York City position of public advocate
Williams, who won a special election for the public advocate’s job earlier this year, defeated Republican City Council member Joseph Borelli and Libertarian Devin Balkind on Tuesday to keep a position that critics have long argued is unnecessary.
“By the time my tenure is done, no one ever again will question what the public advocate is and if we need that office,” Williams vowed.
Katz, the Queens borough president, will take over the Queens district attorney’s job that became vacant after the death of longtime district attorney Richard Brown in May.
She won handily on Tuesday after squeaking out a Democratic primary win earlier this year against Democratic Socialists of America candidate Tiffany Cabán. Her opponent in the general election was Joseph Murray, a retired police officer who is running as a Republican, although he is a registered Democrat.
“We’re facing here an opportunity to make a national model for criminal justice reform and if we don’t do it right here, it’s gonna have massive effects all throughout this country,” Katz said after declaring victory.
In City Council District 45, which includes portions of Midwood, Democratic incumbent Farah Louis won election for the seat vacated by Jumaane Williams last year when he won a special election for public advocate. Louis won her own special election last year for the Council seat.