Did Ranked Choice Voter Education Efforts Work?

Primary Election Day at PS 249 in Flatbush on June 22, 2021.
Photo: Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Lurie Daniel Favors has feared the preferential vote for almost two years. As the executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, she always thinks about the civil rights and civic participation of black New Yorkers. Daniel Favors led a team that partnered with organizations such as Rank the Vote NYC to provide community education on ranked choices in the five boroughs. In the midst of a pandemic, their goal was to get this new system to click with hundreds of thousands of voters, from upwardly mobile young professionals working from home to working class people who never really have them. means of self-quarantine, in every language and dialect imaginable. .

Over the weeks, he now has another task: to answer the question, Have we succeeded?

Voter turnout increased in this election from eight years ago – an undeniable victory – but educators themselves are reluctant to attribute such success entirely to their efforts. “If you had not participated in the old system, there is nothing necessarily inherent in this new system that would entice you to participate,” said Daniel Favors, who pointed out that the election took place in a year that had already seen increased political engagement in the city, from Black Lives Matter protests to the presidential election. “It’s not about getting more people out, it’s about the quality of the engagement.”

The priority-choice system, which allows voters to choose up to five candidates in order of preference, was criticized early on by opponents that candidates of color and voters of color may be subject to undesirable results. For candidates of color, fears of being penalized more in a ranked choice system than in a pluralist system have arisen, with criticism arguing that the change could prompt voters to prioritize conventional or trusted – often white – candidates. (March report by the Electoral Reform Research Group found no effective difference between the marginalization of candidates of color encountered in ranked choice and plurality voting.) Critics have also expressed concerns that voters of color, especially those from black, Latin and Asian communities, may experience a reduction in their electoral power due to insufficient understanding of change.

Last year, six of the city council members, including Eric Adams, tabled suit to the Manhattan State Supreme Court to stop the implementation of the preferential vote in this year’s election. The costume was finally rejected by a judge in May. According to Daniel Favors, who expressly declined to name names, resources devoted to the opposition would have been better spent on education.

“While there were people who could have used a lot of time to educate people, instead they chose to talk more about what a choice vote is and how horrible and terrible it is.” , she told me.

For Rank The Vote NYC, these educational efforts have taken many forms. Sean Dugar began leading coalition efforts last September. “We have held over 600 trainings that have reached approximately 300,000 New Yorkers,” said Dugar, a NAACP and Common Cause veteran with two decades of experience in political organization. “We carried out activities on the ground that reached an additional 300,000 New Yorkers. And in the special election, we sent out direct mail to voters. So it reached another 150,000 people.

These trainings included in-person and virtual presentations at senior and community centers, some as short as 15 minutes, others as long as 40 minutes. To give New Yorkers the experience of voting in a choice-by-ranking system before June 22, they worked with the developer of the VoteClass.co platform to organize mock elections. Dugar is especially proud of the organization’s “Action Weekend” on May 15-16, when, alongside partner organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Rank the Vote NYC reached 150,000 people through a mix. push online, over the phone and in person. They met New Yorkers at green markets, community events, and even got to give presentations at places of worship this weekend.

Kyle Ishmael, executive director of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, sits on the board of directors of Build the Bench, an organization that mobilizes young people of color to get involved in local politics, and he believes that even nominal community education can improve voter participation.

“I think what drives this feeling of people’s apathy or exhaustion is the lack of education,” he said. “Like most things, trying to meet people where they are is the key.”

For Ishmael and Build the Bench, which primarily targets professionals of color under 40, meet people where they’re supposed to host digital panels and social media events, including an Instagram series focused on voting by ranking, in partnership with Rank the Vote NYC. These educational efforts were spurred by a $ 15 million fund provided by the city and announced by Mayor Bill De Blasio in April. (For Daniel Favors, the city’s support was not timely enough. “As much as we appreciated that, and we were grateful that this investment was made, it was less than 90 days before the election.”)

In determining the quality of engagement in the election, organizers are paying close attention to the phenomenon known as “ballot exhaustion”. Ballot exhaustion refers to when a voter’s ballot effectively becomes irrelevant in determining a winner because every candidate ranked by the voter has been eliminated from the race. Unofficial data on the Election Council’s ranking picks shows 15% of voters did not rank Mayor Adams’ declared winner or second place winner, Kathryn Garcia. If they had classified the latter, it strength changed the outcome of the race. “I appreciate [ranked-choice voting] if there was relative equality in the way people used their ballots ”, de Blasio said last week. “In other words, if in more and less privileged communities, you’ve seen a consistent vote of one to five, or as close as possible, everyone [is] maximize the power of their vote.

“If, on the other hand, it turns out that we are seeing real bias, then I think it is time to reassess,” he said, “because what I don’t want to see is a system which sets some people free and not others. “

How can the city assess whether there has been such a disparity? For Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham and co-host of the FAQNYC podcast, the effectiveness of community education in this election can only be determined when we have data that measures how and where organizers have led advocacy against ward voting cards. What is perhaps even more urgent, and what would help all future community education efforts and New Yorkers’ confidence in the system, she said, is a overhaul of the election office.

“My biggest concern leading up to the election was that we have an electoral council that is not functioning at the highest levels of jurisdiction, which unfortunately has materialized,” said Greer. “There is a big difference between incompetence and fraud, but keep in mind that we are coming out of four years, five years now, of Trump crying, ‘Fraud! fraud! fraud!’ It weakens the confidence voters have in the electoral system, ”she said. “And when you work with only a quarter of the people who bother to participate … that’s not a sign of a healthy democracy.”

Still, there are reasons to be hopeful. Almost a week after the election, on June 28, Rank the Vote NYC released a preliminary exit poll Analysis conducted by Edison Research. The results suggest that the final voter turnout tally may be the highest New York City has seen in the city’s primary in 30 years. The results indicated no racial disparities between ethnicities in understanding preferential voting or in the way the ballot was filled. In addition, 77% of voters, according to their data, want to continue using the ranked choice.

Ultimately, Daniel Favors believes community education is a multi-year effort that requires support not only from government, but also from businesses and philanthropic communities. According to her, this is particularly vital in our political moment, with a justice hostile to the right to vote and to civil rights.

“We need to invest heavily in strong, vibrant and culturally appropriate electoral and civic education,” she said. “We need to ensure that those who have been intentionally excluded from this type of leadership have access to the materials, information and long-term sustainable programming that will allow us to be more than big players in determining our destiny.”

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