New Yorkers are an opinionated lot.
As proof, in last year’s crowded Democratic mayoral primary — where, for the first time, voters could rank up to five candidates on their ballot in order of preference — voters collectively cast 74,996 different combinations. That was out of a possible half million different potential match-ups.
The analysis was conducted by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) as part of an annual report to be released Monday that includes the agency’s deep-dive into the cast-vote record, an anonymized archive of how voters made their ballot selections across all races. The record, which includes the selections of the 1,013,427 voters who turned out, also shows the extent to which voters chose to use ranked-choice voting. The report marks the agency’s first analysis of the new system as applied to a citywide election.
For Allie Swatek, the CFB’s director of policy and research, the findings not only will help the agency refine its outreach and voter education, but will also offer a glimpse of how varied the views are within the city’s Democratic electorate.
“It shows the diversity and breadth of opinion and … that there's a huge difference in how Democratic primary voters approach their preferred candidate,” she said.
The CFB even created a tool that allows anyone to see how many voters submitted different ballot ranks, based on the data from the cast-vote record. While the data is anonymous, the tool helps illustrate how many different types of voter expressions were cast in the city’s first full test of the ranked-choice system.
For example, according to the tool, only one voter ranked candidates in the following order: Paperboy Love Prince (1), Maya Wiley (2), Kathryn Garcia (3), Andrew Yang (4), and Eric Adams (5). According to the CFB’s analysis, there are some 38,003 instances where a voter submitted a totally unique combination of candidates, selected by no one else but them. Adams ultimately prevailed in a close contest with Garcia and Wiley, after several rounds of ballots were tabulated.
Want to know how many voters made the same ranked choices as you? Try the CFB's tool here.
Altogether, more than 88% of voters who cast a ballot in last June’s primary ranked candidates for at least one office on their ballot, according to the report. In the mayoral primary, 46% of Democrats used all five ranks available to them, with only 13% opting to vote for just one candidate. Among Republican voters, who had only two candidates on their primary ballot to rank, more than 48% of voters ranked a single candidate.
However, the CFB also found that even when a voter chose not to rank in one contest, that did not preclude them from ranking candidates in other contests further down the ballot. In fact, the CFB found that nearly 20% of voters who chose a single mayoral candidate also opted to rank candidates in other races, particularly in contests with more candidates to choose from.
The races where voters were most likely to use ranked-choice voting also happened to be Democratic primary contests with the highest number of candidates in the race, including the City Council Democratic primaries in District 26 in northern Queens, District 27 in southeast Queens, along with District 9 in Harlem and upper Manhattan.
Julie Won, Nantasha Williams and Kristin Richardson Jordan won those races, respectively.
Community organizations that lead voter education efforts said there is a value in looking at this analysis, as well as conducting their own, to determine how to continue helping voters for the ranked-choice voting elections coming up in 2023, when all 51 members of the City Council will need to run for office again as the maps for their district’s will shift after the local redistricting process is complete.
It’s also the first election where the city’s new Local Law 11 will extend voting rights in local elections to immigrant New Yorkers who are living and working in the city legally, barring any disruption from ongoing legal battles.
That means close to a million new voters could use ranked-choice voting for the first time next year.
“That’s going to be their introduction to American elections and it blows my mind,” said Sandra Choi, director of civic participation at the Flushing-based MinKwon Center for Community Action, which serves low-income Korean and other Asian American residents.
The group, which also convenes a broader umbrella of Asian-American organizations through a group called APA VOICE, led a variety of voter education efforts in a half-dozen different languages to help answer voters’ specific questions about ranked-choice voting, along with candidate forums, text banking and phone banking. Choi said her organization also produced its own report looking at how to further civically engage the Asian-American community, with deeper voter education as a key recommendation.
Reflecting on the CFB’s analysis, she said the variety of different voting expressions underscores why ranked-choice voting is a valuable tool, since it forces candidates to campaign more broadly.
“They can't rely on a small majority to take an election,” Choi said. “I think that really helps our local democracy … where many of the residents in New York City come from a different part of the world.”