Campaigning for public office is hard. Campaigning as young insurgent women is even harder.
The decision to run for office is not an easy one, especially without the backing of party bosses and Democratic Party machines to guarantee votes, money, volunteers and endorsements. There’s a real push for candidates to “wait their turn” or coalesce behind the machine choice.
And in multi-candidate races like the ones we’re running in, voters may feel as if voting for their true preference is at best wasting a vote and at worst could result in an unfavorable candidate winning the seat. Which leaves too many voters trying to strategize rather than vote for the candidate who they believe in.
As a candidate, sometimes it feels as though you are up against a wall. We would know — we’re doing it right now.
But there’s a solution that the Charter Revision Commission is currently considering which could seriously improve outcomes for women like us: ranked-choice voting.
Ranked-choice voting is different than what New Yorkers are used to seeing when they enter a voting booth. Instead of selecting just one candidate on a ballot, voters put their top five choices in order of preference. If there is no majority winner, then the last-placed candidate will be eliminated and their votes re-assigned. This is repeated until one candidate gets over the 50% vote threshold.
It’s a simple reform that has worked in other cities like San Francisco and Santa Fe, in states like Maine and in countries like Australia for decades.
In New York City elections, the winner of the general election is often determined by the winner of a crowded, multi-candidate Democratic primary. Just look at the numbers: In the last three election cycles, the winner in 64% of multi-candidate races won without majority support.
How can we say we have government that truly represents us? Instead, it works well for establishment candidates who campaign to a small base and secure just enough votes to win. Ranked-choice voting forces candidates to alter the way they campaign, because being a voter’s second, third and even fourth choice increases your chances of winning, which means candidates would have to run in a way that reaches out to all voters, not just a select few.
The winner-take-all model of elections can also ramp up negative attacks as candidates elbow each other out of the way for a tiny sliver of the electorate. According to American University Professor Jennifer Lawless, that’s a big part of the reason fewer women run for office, since we face disproportionate gender-based scrutiny.
But ranked-choice voting incentivizes candidates to keep it clean since we’re not just competing for first place, but also second and third, and candidates wouldn’t want to be slandering someone’s first choice in fear of being ranked lower. According to a study from the University of Iowa, likely voters in cities that use ranked choice are more satisfied with local campaigns and view them as less negative.
Currently, the New York City Council has 12 women out of 51 members — a mere 24%. That’s an embarrassment. According to a study done by FairVote, 11 California cities that use alternative vote systems, like ranked choice, saw an increase from 17.2% to 25.6% in candidates of color. Ranked-choice voting can alter the way our representation looks, making space for more young women like us. It eradicates the idea of a “spoiler effect” and motivates other women with similar backgrounds to run for office — and win.
This Wednesday, the New York City Charter Revision Commission will vote on what goes on to the final ballot for voters in November. If commission members care about leveling the playing field for young women and candidates of color, they should include ranked-choice voting for primary and special elections, including all City Council elections, on their lists.