Is ranked-choice voting headed to the Big Apple? 

click to enlarge New York City is on a deadline to decide whether to hold future elections using ranked-choice voting. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • New York City is on a deadline to decide whether to hold future elections using ranked-choice voting.

The race to be the next mayor of New York City could be decided by ranked-choice voting.

The Big Apple is between a rock and a hard deadline. Federal election legislation passed after the fiasco of the 2000 election outlawed that city’s old lever system of voting. Now everyone must cast paper votes, which take much longer to count.

Problem is, New York state law requires primary runoffs to be held 14 days after a primary. That narrow timeline worked with the old system, but with paper ballots, such a turnaround is completely impossible. According to J.C. Polanco, a commissioner on the New York City Board of Elections, if city staff members worked 24 hours a day, it would still take 19 days to count the votes of the 4.6 million-person electorate.

The city might not have 21 candidates for mayor, as San Francisco did in its most recent mayoral race, but quite a few folks have been waiting for three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg to finally leave office. And unlike in San Francisco, the New York mayoral race is partisan, so there needs to be a primary and then a runoff between the Democratic and Republican candidates to determine who is on the final ballot.

“In my opinion, this is the election of the century,” Polanco said.

The city either needs to move the primary date from Sept. 10 to June or adopt some form of ranked-choice voting. Right now, there are two such bills in the state Legislature.

I asked Polanco if New York’s voting machines and public outreach could roll out ranked-choice voting in such a short time.

“We would have to work very closely with our manufacturer to get the machines ready,” he said. “But we have to do something. We are about to experience a chaotic situation in November.”

Bless their hearts. That is a frightening situation. San Francisco’s ranked-choice system isn’t perfect, but it ranks pretty high by comparison.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at

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