The Sweep: Ranked Choice in the Big Apple

Campaign Quick Hits

Add Affirmative Action to the List for 2022: Next week, the Supreme Court will consider whether to take a new challenge to affirmative action policies at private universities. Specifically, a group of students is challenging Harvard’s admissions policies, claiming that they intentionally discriminate against Asian students and use rational balancing to achieve the same mix of students in every class. The question for the Court is whether this violates the civil rights law that says “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race … be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In the last month, the Court has already taken cases on abortion and gun rights for this fall—this could be another blockbuster topic sure to have enormous political implications heading into the 2022 midterm election. The question is whether victories in all three areas for the right would be a rallying cry for the left and fuel Democratic turnout with calls to “pack the court.”

Ranked Choice Voting Hits Gotham

The Democratic Primary for the New York Mayor’s race is June 22—only three weeks away—and it’s getting interesting. Andrew Yang started out as the clear frontrunner. He led in every poll and had the obvious advantage in name ID after his presidential campaign earned him national attention as the quirky candidate who wore a M.A.T.H. pin and hat—short for Make America Think Harder—and ran on policies like universal basic income that fall outside the two major parties’ usual policy prescriptions. But the polling has shifted, and now Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia are potentially tied with or even leading Yang. BUT—and this is a big but—nobody really has any idea how this election is going to turn out, because NYC is using ranked choice voting for the first time. And I am PUMPED. Here’s why:

  1. This could make polling irrelevant. National, presidential-level polling should be the easiest type of polling to get right—a huge pool of voters with high turnout and lots of demographic data available. And we all know how that’s been turning out lately. But using polling to accurately predict the outcome of a mayoral primary using ranked choice voting? Yowzers. Mayor’s races have lower turnout. Primaries have much lower turnout. Ranked choice voting isn’t just about how people rank all the candidates in such a crowded field, it’s also about whether they rank them at all. If you check out the polling so far, it’s all asking who the voter’s “first choice” is. Well, that’s interesting information if you want to know who will make it to the top 3-4 candidates, maybe—but it doesn’t tell you much at all about who will win when the field winnows down to two, because they can’t predict who the two will be, and how many of the 3rd candidates’ first-choice voters will rank other candidates, and who their second-or third-ranked candidates will be … I LOVE IT! No front runner bias. No pundits over-shadowing the dynamics of the race. So many known unknowns!

  1. Name ID will become less important. See above. If the 2016 Republican primaries had all used ranked-choice voting, the world might look pretty different right now. Assume that the majority of Cruz voters ranked Rubio second and vice versa—and the Kasich/Bush voters always ranked Trump last and the Carson/Christie voters always ranked Trump second—and Trump probably doesn’t win any of the first three primaries. The point is ranked choice voting—in theory—fixes the problem of a crowded field in which a whole bunch of candidates divide up the same majority of voters allowing the united minority to win. And the united minority often picks the candidate that is most familiar—hence the name ID problem in crowded fields.

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