What New York City Taught Us About Order-of-Choice Voting and the Democratic Party
Brooklyn Borough President and Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams smiles as participants gather for a march through the financial district during a parade honoring workers essential for their efforts to move New York City beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo / John Minchillo)
After two weeks of jarring uncertainty and speculative math permutations, New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary count ends as it initially began on Election Day with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at the top. . And as the Republican Party has done nominated symbolic opposition (fake crime fighter Curtis Sliwa), Adams is almost certain to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As always, the media attention lavished on New York City is often disproportionate. But this result has relevance for those of us who don’t live there. As the most populous city in the United States with a national and global economy, we all have a stake in its management and prosperity. The city’s Democratic electorate is economically and racially diverse, so its primaries provide insight into what the party’s grassroots think and feel. And as I wrote here earlier, this year’s primaries were the biggest test yet for ranked election voting, the method of voting in which voters can rank multiple candidates and secondary options are counted if options are eliminated. primary.
For now, we can only hope that Adams can deftly steer the ship from New York City. But we can more easily assess what his success says about the Democrats and RCV.
Before even seeing the final results, Adams was explaining To his fellow Democrats that his apparent victory meant, “America is saying we want to have justice and security and end inequality. And we don’t want fancy candidates. We want candidates: their nails are not polished, they have calluses on their hands and they are workers.
Never mind that New York City is not the equivalent of “America.” Adams is correct that most voters do not see “security” as a tension with “fairness” and equality. They want it all.
And Adams, a Brooklyn-born African-American victim of police violence turned police officer and advocate for internal reform, was in a unique position to craft a message that combined police reform with support for the police.
In a campaign appearance in May, Adams recounted when he marched in his police academy uniform to protest the 1984 murder by a police officer of the elderly and mentally ill Eleanor Bumpurs: narration the crowd, “I’m not new to this. I’m true to this. ”That record made it easy for Adams to say that he could restore controversial police strategies, including detention and search units and plainclothes units, but clean them of racial profiling.
Mayor’s runner-up Kathryn Garcia also had a mixed message; its website problems page says: “Reducing crime and police reform are not in conflict with each other.” But as a white person (her last name is by marriage) with no lived experience in the suffering of racism by police officers, no professional experience in the police force, and no experience as an activist as a criminal justice reformer, she brought no credentials. of criminal justice to the table.
Maya Wiley, was the only top-tier candidate who proposed major budget cuts to the police department: a $1 billion cuts to be exact. And her posted ads describing herself as a “civil rights lawyer” who will “transform the police,” a phrase that she clearly hoped would have broader appeal than “defunding the police.” Such bold stances helped her win the endorsement of New York’s most prominent progressive elected official, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
That endorsement elevated Wiley to the top echelon and helped attract secondary votes in the classified-election system from other progressive candidates. But the one-sided police reform message, without a strong partner with an anti-crime message, limited her appeal and left her with 29 percent of the vote before being eliminated in the penultimate round.
After the vote count began with Adams at the helm, New York magazine leftist commentator Eric Levitz warned that “public alarm about crime [can] trigger a punitive turn in politics. “He advised progressives that” we are not going to persuade the urban working class to ignore the rise in homicides. Therefore, our best bet to resist a punitive turn in justice policy criminal law is convincing voters that our approach to public safety is more effective than the pro-prison status quo. ”Along with the efforts of the growing ranks of progressive district attorneys such as Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, Larry Krasner of Philadelphia George Gascon of Los Angeles, much of that progressive hope is now going to rest, perhaps uneasily, with the new future York City Mayor Eric Adams.
What did the primaries teach us about how ranking voting affects campaigns? As we’ve seen in some RCV mayoral campaigns in other cities, when winning an outright majority is unlikely, candidates may be forced to forge alliances in the hope of gaining critical secondary support. However, only one partnership materialized in New York City: the uneasy quasi-alliance between Garcia and Andrew Yang. The two campaigned down the stretch together, but while Yang said he would rank Garcia as his second choice, Garcia didn’t reciprocate.
Still, getting candidates to move together is a far cry from trying to hit each other. And some defenders of RCV, like those of FairVote, argue that the need for secondary support fosters civility along the way: “RCV fosters a more civilized discourse among candidates because candidates campaign not only for first-choice support, but also for second-choice support from other candidates. . Due, [candidates] they have less incentive to make negative statements about their opponents because they run the risk of alienating that opponent’s supporters. “
But the Garcia-Yang partnership failed in practice. Once the votes of Yang, who came in fourth place, were redistributedGarcia won 32 percent of them, but Adams chose 28 percent, greatly diminishing the value of the association for Garcia. (Another 29 percent of Yang’s support couldn’t go to anyone left in the race and was discarded.)
Compare that performance to what happened in San Francisco’s 2018 nonpartisan mayoral race. Two progressives, Mark Leno and Jane Kim, co-sponsored each other and cut a joint television commercial in an attempt to deny victory to the moderate acting mayor London Breed. It almost worked, as Leno got 68 percent of Kim’s votes for the final round. While Leno was 14 points behind Breed in the penultimate round, he lost in the final round by just one point. Garcia did not narrow the gap with Adams to a point until Wiley He was eliminated before the final round, someone with whom Garcia had no alliance at all.
Leno and Kim had overlapping ideological views and were able to form a natural alliance. Garcia and Yang was more of a shotgun marriage. There was no shared philosophical principle behind his announcement, which made it more difficult to convince supporters of one candidate that they had an obligation to put the other candidate second. (Also hampered by the association was its materialization only at the end of the campaign, after some voters had already cast their votes by mail.)
Meanwhile, Adams did not associate with anyone. He attacked all his rivals without hesitation. He did not navigate the classified election vote with clever machinations. He crushed it with combative bravado. He understood Rule No. Ranked # 1 in Voting: The person with the most first-choice votes wins. 96 percent weather.
Granted, Adams almost lost. And you may lose even if you have a majority of the first-choice votes, alienating so many voters that you end up with a strict ceiling when it comes to secondary votes. Adams took that risk and got away with it. And New York, in addition to voting in order of preference, dodged the tumult of having a black candidate almost declared the winner on election night and then having a Caucasian candidate annul that apparent result.
Could a stronger alliance have frustrated Adams? We will never know. Theoretically, a Garcia-Wiley alliance could have given Garcia enough votes to pass Adams in the final round. Perhaps they could have covered up their differences on policing and campaigned jointly to ensure that New York City elects its first mayor. Perhaps Garcia could have broadened his support beyond his base of moderate, wealthy white Manhattanites, or Wiley could have broadened his support to include more moderate, wealthy, and white Manhattanites.
Personally, I remain skeptical that such rude plays can work. When there is shared value, voters are more likely to see an alliance as authentic. When there isn’t, voters can only see a selfish political calculation, and that undermines authenticity.
Perhaps future candidates will try to improve Garcia-Yang by partnering earlier and more aggressively. But I would suggest that more candidates repeat Adams. Even in a classified election voting system, nothing beats being authentic.