The state Assembly wants to hear New Yorkers' experience with ranked-choice voting, the new method of deciding the outcomes in races for citywide offices, borough president, and New York City Council seats. A newly-announced hearing is one of the several focused on how the New York City primary election went, including another pending hearing on what led to mass confusion days after the polls closed.
Brooklyn Assemblymember Latrice Walker, chair of the body's Election Law Committee, announced Friday she will convene the hearing on July 19th beginning at 10:30 a.m at 250 Broadway in Manhattan. New Yorkers will be given the chance to speak about their experience with ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to pick up to five candidates and rank them in the order of preference.
In an interview with Gothamist/WNYC, Walker said her summation of the rollout of ranked-choice voting was premature, not accounting for training or even a more sufficient education period.
"I'm not against ranked-choice voting. But what I am against is moving too fast knowing that the Board of Elections was not ready for this rollout particularly since they only received the ability to implement the tabulation software just weeks ahead of this election," Walker said, adding the education component was not sufficient.
The new method of voting has been criticized by several members of the New York City Council, including Queens Councilmember Daneek Miller, chair of the Black Latino and Asian Caucus. The group has been largely concerned over the quick roll-out of RCV, asserting it would disenfranchise communities of color unfamiliar with the process.
In May, Miller introduced legislation that would repeal RCV and allow New Yorkers to decide through a referendum vote whether the city should continue this voting method. New Yorkers had already voted via referendum to implement ranked-choice voting during the 2019 November general election. It garnered 70% of support, making New York City the most populated city to adopt ranked-choice voting.
“I’m not suggesting as a council that we would overturn the will of the people – even though I dismiss that this was a mandate,” Miller told the Queens Daily Eagle last month. “This would leave it up to the people and also allow for enough time between June and November to have a robust public discourse [about RCV].”
He also told the publication, “There's a lot to be concerned about [including] whether or not we’ve educated the consumer and the constituency to have the tools and resources to make intelligent decisions in utilizing this new method of voting.”
In interviews with Gothamist/WNYC during the early voting phase of the June 22nd primary, voters largely understood the process, crediting television ads and their own research in familiarizing themselves with the process.
"The only question I really had was if I only wanted to vote for three, do I have to pick all five?" Jose Paez, a voter in the Bronx, previously told Gothamist/WNYC. "And they were like, no. So they were very informative, letting me know what I could do. Yeah, it was easy. I think that there's two pages, so that's a little bit of-- people have to make sure that they get to the second page and vote there's judges on there. And that's really important."
In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Morgan Sasser learned about ranked-choice voting through advertisements on Hulu but also received mailers.
"We knew all about it," Sasser said. "I thought it was super straightforward. I didn't take advantage of it as much, probably for like most [races] I did one or two."
In a statement, Valerie Vazquez, a spokesperson for the BOE, defended the BOE’s education campaign ahead of primary day.
“Although the NYC Board of Elections was not tasked with public education as per the charter, the Board was committed to providing an aggressive citywide public education campaign,” Vazquez said. “[That] included a dedicated website landing page, a PSA in the covered languages, a multimillion dollar print and digital buy in citywide, local community and required language publications. The Board also sent out a direct mailing to all registered voters and purchased outdoor advertising across all 5 Boroughs.”
The hearing announcement comes less than a week after the New York City Board of Elections mistakenly released ranked-choice voting results showing 135,000 test ballots mixed in with real ballots, prompting the BOE to re-release results the following day. The error drew condemnation from elected officials outraged over the years of mistakes made by BOE that has called its competency into question. It also drew a stern statement from state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins who called the BOE's blunder a "national embarrassment" that "must be dealt with promptly and properly."
"In the coming weeks, the Senate will be holding hearings on this situation and will seek to pass reform legislation as a result at the earliest opportunity," Stewart-Cousins said.