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new york city mayoral ranked choice voting
From left to right: Maya Wiley, Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, and Andrew Yang are running for mayor of New York City.

New York City voters took to the polls Tuesday to select the Democratic and Republican nominees for mayor. With an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, whoever wins that party’s nomination is the odds-on favorite to win in November. Many expect this election’s outcome to be pivotal.

With efforts for systemic policing reforms at the center of the debate, the election could be seen as a referendum on the “defund the police” movement.

There’s just one problem: As of Wednesday morning, New Yorkers don’t yet know who their next mayor is going to be.

That’s because this election was far from normal for the nation’s largest city.  As pandemic restrictions ease, residents are looking for a leader who will move the city in brighter direction. But making that decision looked different than it ever had before.

New York uses ranked-choice voting for the first time to decide new mayor

For the first time, New York City employed ranked-choice voting to help decide who its new mayor will be.  Rather than simply choosing their favorite of the thirteen candidates running in the Democratic primary, voters could rank up to their top five choices.

As the votes are counted, the candidate with the least amount of first choice rankings after each round is eliminated.  Anyone who ranked a now-removed candidate as their first choice then has their vote redistributed to their next highest choice. This process continues until, eventually, one candidate has a majority of the vote and is declared the winner. In an election with over a dozen candidates, it could take eleven rounds of counting for a winner to emerge.

It’s a process that may seem complicated (the New York Times and Fair Vote have helpful visuals that break it down), but many argue it strengthens the voter’s role in elections.

Britney Fitzgerald, a Brooklyn resident who cast her ballot in today’s election, echoed this sentiment in an interview with The Black Wall Street Times.

“I think I liked it!” said Fitzgerald. “I felt like there were a lot of different options. I’m still not sure who is in the lead or who will win.”

Fitzgerald said she felt the process made the election more about substance than a particular candidate. “It made me analyze the candidates a little more deeply because I really needed to come up with a one, two and three.”

Top candidates emerge as voting continues

With roughly 80% of votes counted at midnight, the top four candidates were Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, Kathryn Garcia and Andrew Yang.  In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Yang had conceded the race leaving Adams in first, followed by Wiley and Garcia respectively.

New York has had 109 mayors in its history. All of those mayors have been men and only one has been Black.

David Dinkins made history in 1989 when he defeated Rudy Giuliani in the city’s race for mayor. Dinkins became the first and only African-American ever to lead the city of New York.

Now, with no white men within reach of the Democratic nomination, the city appears poised to make history again.  The final outcome, however, will be telling about just how far to the left New Yorkers are leaning.

Prior to the pandemic, New York was already facing its own housing crisis. Rents were skyrocketing while wages remained stagnant; and the wealth gap between Black and White citizens was as wide as ever. Now, as the pandemic wanes, the Big Apple is emerging to reckon with these deep racial and economic disparities.

Crime in the city has risen more than 22% over the last year amid lingering effects from the pandemic COVID-19. With echoes of New York’s difficult past building, many view this as a watershed moment for the city and, ultimately, the country.

Defund the police movement faces crucial test in New York mayoral race

Three of the top four vote-getters are outspoken opponents of the “Defund the Police” movement.

Yang, Garcia and Adams (a Black man and former NYPD officer) have all expressed disinterest if not disdain for defunding the police.

Yang held a press conference in May where he declared that New Yorkers “cannot afford to defund the police”. In a debate just last week, Kathryn Garcia said that she believed defunding the police was the “worst idea” she has heard in the campaign. And in an interview with New York Magazine, Eric Adams told a reporter that efforts to “defund the police” were being driven by “young, white, affluent people” and not people of color.

By contrast, Maya Wiley has stated she intends to reallocate $1 Billion from the NYPD budget as a means of reforming the department. Wiley also said she would appoint a civilian as police chief, rather than someone who “came up through the ranks”.

Wiley is the only Black woman and woman of color in the top-tier of the race. If elected, she would become the first woman and first Black woman to lead the nation’s largest city.

On Wednesday morning, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, had declared victory.  Observers caution that while Adam’s lead in first-choice votes was substantial, a winner has yet to be determined.  Election officials will tabulate second and third choice votes by early-to-mid July.

While it remains uncertain who will become New York’s next mayor, this election will impact politics across the country.

The likelihood of an historic choice, a test of the fervor of systemic policing reform in one of the nation’s most liberal cities and the country’s largest yet use of ranked-choice voting place all eyes squarely on the Big Apple.

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...

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