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Jerry Kremer

Ranked-choice voting? Not my choice.

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I must confess that I’m an old-fashioned guy who honors certain customs. I hold doors open for women and people with packages. I put my hand over my heart when they play “God Bless America” at a baseball game. I greet the staff at my law firm every time I walk in the door. And I have never missed an opportunity to vote in any election, major or minor.

Which brings me to the discussion about the voting system that’s going to be used in the New York City mayoral primaries on June 22. For the first time in the city’s history, voters will be asked to participate in a process known as “ranked-choice voting.” Long Islanders might think that what goes on in the city is none of their business, but I learned during my service in Albany that when New York City sneezes, Long Island catches a cold.

In ranked-choice voting, you can rank the candidates in your order of preference, instead of choosing just one. You get to rank five candidates. If any candidate receives 50 percent or more of the first-choice votes, he or she will be declared the winner. If no candidate earns 50 percent, the counting will continue in rounds. Your first-choice vote will be skipped over to your second choice, and your other votes will be counted until there are just two candidates left, and the one who gets the most remaining votes is the winner.

According to the brochure provided by the New York City Board of Elections, you must carefully follow its rules. Can you vote for just one candidate? Yes, but then your vote means nothing in the next round. Can you vote for your favorite candidate more than once? No; you can’t give the candidate you like best multiple votes. Can you declare all of your picks first choices? No. If you do that, your ballot won’t be counted at all. The Board of Elections is assuming that all primary voters will read its multi-lingual brochure and have no problem participating in the system.

When will the final vote tally be released? It will probably take several weeks, because absentee and military ballots must be counted as well. That’s the system, according to the board.

There’s no doubt that there will be mass confusion on Primary Day. If you wait to vote on June 22, the lines will be long, and voters will be agitating over how to cast valid ballots. The Board of Elections did a terrible job in last year’s presidential election, so there is reason for worry.

How did New York City get into this mess? The 2019 election took place during a very quiet voting year. There were no serious contests, and the vast majority of voters stayed home. The Working Families Party and progressive groups decided it was the year to get voters to approve ranked-choice voting. With a small turnout, the new system was approved by over 70 percent of voters.

Supporters of the system will tell you that Alaska and Maine use it for local elections. Some 20 cities around the country also use it. Their officials will tell you that it’s a great way to get more choices on the ballot in any year, especially a year with a mayoral election, when the turnout is large. The New York City election is a test case for the progressive groups who hope to make this a statewide system.

As we approach Primary Day, there are a trio of candidates who are leading the field. One of them could emerge as the winner depending on how the election is conducted. As I said, I like the old-fashioned way. A slate of candidates, and the one who gets 51 per cent is the winner. So let’s hope that whoever wins is someone who is highly capable and knows how to take on a very difficult job.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.