New York City has embarked on the biggest ranked-choice voting election in American history with the Democratic primary for mayor on Tuesday. Plenty of New Yorkers are looking for advice on how to fill out their ballots to help their favorite candidates — or to try to block other candidates they don’t want in City Hall.
As a longtime planner and champion of ranked-choice voting, I’ve pulled together some guidance for marking your ballot for a variety of scenarios involving the mayoral candidates, in particular Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Yang and Scott Stringer. But first, the good news for voters: This is not rocket science.
The system is designed for voters to express themselves and arrive at a consensus candidate. Because voting to get the results you want is so intuitive, ranked choice has become the nation’s most popular new electoral reform after successful uses in elections in Maine for president and Congress, mayoral elections in more than a dozen cities and elections for leaders of many major associations.
Among the upsides: In Tuesday’s primaries, races up and down the ballot have multiple candidates of color and women, and in ranked-choice voting, none of them have to worry about split votes. That term describes what often happens when two or more candidates appealing to the same voters run in an election and the votes are divided, causing neither to win. This helps to explain why RepresentWomen and FairVote show sharply rising success for underrepresented candidates.
The best advice is simple: Rank your favorite candidate first, your second favorite second and so on until you reach New York’s maximum of five ranked candidates. If you rank five, you’ll have cast your most expressive ballot ever.
But for voters who want to think strategically, here are a few scenarios to keep in mind.
‘I want Adams to win and Wiley to lose.’
Rank Mr. Adams first and include Ms. Garcia, Mr. Yang and Scott Stringer in your rankings. Don’t rank Ms. Wiley.
‘I want Wiley to win and Adams to lose.’
Rank Ms. Wiley first, and include Ms. Garcia, Mr. Stringer and Mr. Yang in your rankings. Don’t rank Mr. Adams.
‘I want Garcia to win and Stringer to lose.’
Rank Ms. Garcia first, and include Ms. Wiley, Mr. Adams and Mr. Yang in your rankings. Don’t rank Mr. Stringer.
‘It’s time for a woman.’
Suppose you think it’s time for New York’s first woman mayor. Among the top three female candidates in the polls — Ms. Wiley, Ms. Garcia and Dianne Morales — you should rank one of them first, then rank any others you find acceptable before ranking a man. That approach helped Oakland elect its first woman mayor, after converting to ranked-choice voting in 2010.
‘I support only Andrew Yang.’
If, say, electing Mr. Yang is your sole motivation, just rank him first. But think twice about ranking only Mr. Yang; doing so won’t help him more than you already have, and you won’t be able to influence who wins if he doesn’t reach the final round.
If you rank the three other leading candidates — Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia, and Ms. Wiley — and two additional candidates, and don’t rank Mr. Yang, your ballot will count against him in every round. The same approach applies if you want to try to stop the other front-runners; for example, if you want to stop Ms. Garcia, your rankings should include at least Mr. Adams, Ms. Wiley and Mr. Yang in the order of your choice.
‘I like Wiley best but can accept Garcia.’
Rank Ms. Wiley as your top choice and potentially include other progressive candidates in your rankings but be sure to rank Ms. Garcia ahead of other viable moderate candidates. While Ms. Wiley leads in progressive endorsements, polls show Ms. Garcia does well among self-described liberal voters.
‘Can I still help Scott Stringer?’
The current city comptroller, Mr. Stringer for years cultivated voters and still commands support despite allegations of sexual misbehavior. With ranked-choice voting, you can still rank him first, but be ready to fill out your next rankings, as those candidates may well receive your vote during the count.
‘I support someone who isn’t polling well, but I have a preference among the front-runners.’
Rank your favorite candidate first, regardless of his or her viability, and be sure to include your preferred front-runner in your rankings.
‘I want a mayor reflecting my political philosophy.’
If you want a candidate who is more progressive, rank Ms. Morales, Mr. Stringer, Ms. Wiley and Shaun Donovan in order of preference before you rank your most acceptable moderate candidate. If you want a more moderate candidate, start your rankings with your preferred mix of Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia, Mr. Yang and Ray McGuire.
‘I want to consider the polls.’
Sincerely ranking your choices is the safest way to vote. But if you want to make your ranked-choice ballot even more strategic, there are two potential factors for those keeping an eye on the polls.
First, because New York limits rankings to five, the best way to guarantee your ballot counts in every round of the tally is to include at least four of the five most viable candidates. Polls suggest the five most viable candidates in the Democratic mayoral primary are Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia, Ms. Wiley, Mr. Yang and Mr. Stringer.
Second, you may care only about defeating someone. Keeping that candidate off your ballot and ranking all the other viable candidates in your order of preference nearly always works best for this goal. But if you feel certain that only one candidate can defeat a candidate you don’t like (and that’s a big if), rank that one candidate first among the front-runners to improve his or her odds of advancing to the final round.
Follow that advice, and you will help your favorite as much as possible while ensuring your vote counts against the candidate you dislike the most.
‘What else should I know?’
It’s important to understand that winners could also have prevailed under the old single-choice system. Your ballot never counts for more than one candidate in each round of counting, and ranking candidates after your first choice in no way counts against your favorite candidate.
Indeed, many races are won by candidates who win in the first round by earning more than half of first choice rankings. Your backup rankings count only when no one gets a first-round majority — and only if your top-ranked choice has been defeated.
‘What does this advice mean for candidates?’
For candidates, never assume voters fall into simplistic categories. Few people rank every woman over every man or every person of one racial or ethnic group over everyone else. The broad categories of progressive and moderate don’t match with how every voter thinks. In a wide-open primary like this one, it’s smart to engage with voters beyond your base to look for a connection that might earn a high ranking.
The bottom line: Ranked-choice voting isn’t a cure-all for politics, but it’s a fair system that gives voters more power to get what they want. Of course, only one candidate can win, and there’s sure to be disappointment. But to give your vote its best chance to influence the outcome, rank five, and get ready for a new mayor who may well serve New York until the end of the decade.
Rob Richie has led FairVote since 1992 and FairVote Action, a lobbying group, since 2002. He contributed to “Every Vote Equal,” a book about Electoral College reform, and wrote “Whose Votes Count,” a book about fair representation in voting.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].