Before heading to Queens College to cast his early vote in the special election in District 24 this week, Jim Morningstar, a resident of the district for 26 years, wasn’t familiar with the new Ranked-Choice Voting system.

There was no crowd at the voting site on Monday afternoon, the third day of early voting, but Morningstar took time navigating the ballot. “I did disqualify my first ballot but that was my own negligence,” he told Gothamist. “I don’t know if it disqualified it, but I just didn’t want to take the chance of my voice not counting.”

The RCV system is new to New York City, and asks voters to rank up to five candidates. At first, Morningstar assumed he could rank his primary choice as his first, second, and third choice, but that isn’t the case. Candidates cannot be ranked more than once.

Morningstar is still unsure about this new voting system and what it accomplishes. “I would have to really understand the differences and the outcome before I make a call but as long as I can tell you who my primary choice is, I’m pretty comfortable,” he said.

The special election is the first time New Yorkers are ranking their vote and the race is being closely monitored by many as a testing ground for the system, which will be implemented throughout the 2021 election year.

Voters we spoke to this week ran the gamut from completely unaware of RCV to totally prepared, having done their own research before arriving. Voting sites such as the Queens College location prepared for voter confusion, with poll workers assisting voters through the ballot, providing language accessible information, and getting voters in and out quickly.

Similar to Morningstar, voter Paulette Ajarie also made a mistake on her first ballot. Unaware of the new system, Ajarie filled in bubbles for multiple candidates as her first choice, not realizing the different columns. “I read about it and still did not understand it because I fill in all the names as first choice and the machine rejected it,” Ajarie said. Ultimately she was indifferent to the new process.

A voter outside of the polling place

Joan Dulitz, a longtime resident of over 40 years, requested an absentee ballot but due to fears of it not coming in on time, visited the early voting site instead. She was impressed by the quick, easy, and straightforward experience. “It was very easy, in and out, very safe,” she said.

Dulitz was attentive to this special election race, aware of Ranked-Choice Voting, and kept up with the candidates running. Mailers explaining how the system works were helpful, she said. The information “was sent out to the neighborhood. They sent out how to do it [and] what to do and the people who were also running advertised it in the papers we read.”

The voting experience was also described as quick and easy by Christopher Abrams, who heard about the newly implemented system a month ago and was able to research the candidates beforehand. The system was self-explanatory, he said, yet he is not convinced of its impact. “It should be just one person you want to [choose],” he said. “I just think the whole thing is a little flaky, but we still voted anyway.”

In favor of the ranking system, Howard Gutterman cast his vote within minutes. He said he finds the system to be easy — “I think a lot of people are very confused about it but I think it’s a good system to have, so that you don’t have run-offs which are an expensive waste of taxpayer money."

About 588 people cast their ballots throughout District 24 in the past three days, with 310 voters on Monday, January 25th, according to the Board of Elections. This week it was revealed that the BOE may need to count the votes by hand.

Alongside the Queens College voting site, registered voters can also visit York College or the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall to vote early this week, until January 31st, or cast their vote on election day on February 2nd. Pamphlets explaining RCV are available on-site, and include information in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bangla. There is also a section filled with interpreters upon request.

➡️Here is our Guide to Ranked-Choice Voting