Why “instant runoff” in New York doesn’t mean instant results


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By Ethan Cohen and Adam Levy, CNN

New York City introduces ranked picks in its mayoral election and several other major races, making it the largest US jurisdiction to try the electoral system.

Under this system, voters rate their five best choices in order of preference, rather than picking just one – a change that allows the city to avoid a separate runoff in the crowded 13-member Democratic mayoral election where no candidate is expected that he passed the 50% threshold required to win the primary outright. (Normal voting will be used in the November general election.)

But while it is sometimes referred to as an “instant runoff,” the primary vote count in New York will be far from quick as the city will have to wait to begin the postal ballot count.

While New York will publish preliminary results of the personal vote once the elections on the 22nd the mayoral election.

Even then, it may take a few more weeks to see the final results.

Here is the current calendar of the New York Electoral Committee:

  • June 20: Last day of NYC in-person pre-voting. Voters have nine days to vote in person before election day.
  • June 22nd (election day): The results of the first election from ballot papers submitted early or personally on election day will be published after the polling stations have closed.
  • June 28: Electoral officials begin processing postal ballot papers.
  • June 29th: Deadline for submitting all postal voting documents that must be postmarked by election day. The results of the ranking list voting will be published from the early voting slips or on election day.
  • July 6: Updated leaderboard voting results will be released, including any validated postal ballot papers. The results are updated weekly until all ballots are tabulated.

Here’s how it works.

This is what the ballot papers look like

Unlike a traditional ballot, which has only one place per candidate to mark an election, a ballot has a grid. For each race on this ballot, the candidates are listed on the left, and each column corresponds to a choice: either first, second, third, fourth, or fifth.

Mistakes could be a problem

There are two major mistakes that can invalidate votes.

Voters are not allowed to place a candidate more than once on a ballot. Even if you’re a huge fan of just one candidate, trying to mark the same candidate as first, second, and third choices is exactly the same as just marking him as first choice and leaving the rest of the choices blank.

Voters are not allowed to select multiple candidates in a ranking. If more than one candidate is assigned the same leaderboard, not only will that election be voided, but all other leaderboards in that race will also be void. For example, if two candidates are marked as a voter’s second choice, that ballot will become invalid after the first choice is eliminated. Voters are not required to nominate five candidates. If a voter has only three choices, it is acceptable to place them in one, two, and three places while leaving four and five empty.

This is how the count works

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first election votes, the table is presented in rounds.

The candidate with the fewest votes after the first count is eliminated and all ballots for that candidate are given to the next highest selected candidate. This process continues until there are two candidates left, with the winner being determined who has the most votes in that final round.

What the results will look like

The results of a ranking election also look different than other elections.

In previous elections, a simple list of candidates was shown with the total number of votes for each. The results of the ranked elections are displayed in a grid. Each column represents one round of the ranking selection process. The candidates marked in red received the fewest votes and are therefore eliminated. These votes will be redistributed to the voters next on their ballot paper. Therefore, remaining candidates can win votes in each round. When there are only two candidates left, whoever has the most votes wins.

The other unique element of these results is the line at the bottom for “inactive ballots”. These ballot papers, sometimes called “exhausted” ballots, are ballot papers for which no candidate has been selected who will remain in the election campaign.

For example, if a voter chooses only the first and second elections and those candidates were eliminated in the first two rounds, their ballot would be “inactive” and not included in the rest of the process.

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