A Record Number of Women Are Gaining Traction in NYC Mayoral Race—Thanks to Ranked-Choice Voting

Even before the final results are tallied after the June 22 New York mayoral primary, we already know ranked-choice voting is changing the electoral process in the city. 

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During the NYC mayoral primaries, ranked-choice voting will be used city-wide in New York City for the first time since its readoption via a ballot measure in 2019. (Allison Meier/Flickr)

On June 22, New Yorkers will go to the polls for their mayoral primaries. Ranked-choice voting will be used city-wide in New York City for the first time since its readoption via a ballot measure in 2019. The Democratic primary for mayor currently features 14 candidates—a number that in past years would almost guarantee a party nominee who won only a plurality of the votes. But even before the final results are tallied after the June 22 primary, we already know ranked-choice voting is changing the electoral process in the city. 

In both donations and polling, a record number of women and women of color are gaining traction in the New York City mayoral race. The presence of ranked-choice voting has helped to minimize typical fears of too many women candidates splitting the vote, and has even helped to address questions of likability and electability that often plague the campaigns of women candidates. 

Art Chang and Joycelyn Taylor have announced a cross-endorsement pact, encouraging their respective supporters to rank the other on ballots. Although Chang and Taylor are the only two mayoral candidates to officially enter into such an arrangement, other candidates have previously made unofficial comments on ranking other candidates on their personal ballots throughout the election cycle. 

At an event to support candidate Kathryn Garcia’s plan to streamline the process of applying for a business license, Andrew Yang, considered a frontrunner in the primary, said, “I like and admire Kathryn, I think that any city that has her in a position of leadership is going to be stronger, is going to function better.” Although not a formal endorsement, Yang’s comment about Garcia and other candidates in the running highlight the positive campaign tactics, which have become a hallmark of ranked-choice elections. 

Individual, group and PAC endorsements during the mayoral primary have also been transformed by ranked-choice voting. Many groups have opted for ranked and co-endorsements of candidates ending the fear that candidates who have similar platforms or are demographically similar will split the vote on Election Day.

The co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN), George Albro commented on the new endorsement process, “We just saw this as a historic opportunity, two progressive women of color. Normally we would just make one endorsement. But because of ranked-choice voting and the role that it plays, we did both.” NYPAN co-endorsed Maya Wiley and Dianne Morales. 

Ranked-choice voting not only improves the democratic process, it is also a better system for women and people of color candidates to run in as the winner-take-all system that continues to dominate the U.S. reinforces the cis, white, male status quo of American politics. Ranked-choice voting: 

  • Encourages issue-focused campaigns, rather than character-based attacks;
  • Incentivizes coalition building between candidates rather than divisive and negative campaign tactics; 
  • Eliminates split votes between ‘like’ candidates; and
  • Addresses the “viability” trope that many women and BIPOC candidates face when running for office. 

All of these changes to the campaign processes have been shown to increase the diversity of candidates who run and improve outcomes as well. 

New York City has had 108 mayors in its history; none have been women. and only one, David Dinkin, was a person of color. Women and people of color only make up 25 percent and 45 percent of the current city council respectively. Other jurisdictions using ranked choice voting for local offices have seen improvements in their descriptive representation; but even without knowing the outcomes of the ranked choice elections in New York City, we can already see the many benefits the system has had on the electoral process; making democracy a more inclusive and positive process for candidates. 

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About

Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.