Ranked-choice voting education takes on
new importance during Black History Month
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TIMESLEDGER | QNS.COM | FEB. 26-MARCH 4, 2021 13
BY KENNY COHEN
Since its founding in 1909 in New York City, the
NAACP has played a central role in both voter education
and voter equality in the history of this country.
From its central role in the enactment of the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, to helping Black voters get
registered in the Jim Crow South, the NAACP has
always been dedicated to our mission of empowering
It’s an important story to remember and celebrate
this Black History Month, on the heels of a national
election where we fought voter suppression and allegations
of election fraud targeted specifically at
This year, we have a new way of voting in New
York City known as ranked-choice voting (RCV).
And as always, when a change to our democratic
process comes around, the NAACP is at the forefront
of making sure our community is educated
and that everyone has a fair chance to get out and
exercise their civic duty, especially historically disenfranchised
Voters in Queens Council District 31 used RCV to
cast their ballots in the Feb. 23 special election and
voters citywide will do so in June. RCV eliminates
the “spoiler effect,” meaning that more Black and
brown candidates can run without worrying about
canceling each other out. It’s also been proven to
elect more women and first-time candidates. And it
means that candidates from outside our communities
have to actually campaign for our votes, instead
of just relying on their base. Most importantly, the
eventual winner always succeeds with a majority
of the vote, so no more of these fractured primaries
where someone squeaks by with less than 50 percent.
So what is RCV?
It’s simple. RCV allows voters to rank five candidates
in order of preference, or vote for just one
as they always have. If no one wins with a majority
(more than 50 percent), the candidate that came in
last is eliminated and your second-choice votes get
counted and so on until there’s a majority winner.
RCV will apply to primaries and special elections
for all local offices including City Council, borough
president, comptroller, public advocate and mayor.
RCV has the potential to usher in a new era in
New York City politics: In California, RCV has increased
representation across the board, including
the election of the first Black woman to mayor of San
Francisco. Candidates of color in the Bay Area now
win 62 percent of elections, compared to 38 percent
prior to RCV. Many community-based organizations
like ours have been doing the work to make sure
voters know what to expect when they head to the
In partnership with Rank the Vote NYC, we
helped hand out 3,000 pieces of literature to voters
during early voting weekend for the special election
in CD24, and we’ll continue to sponsor and participate
in forums with various partners to spread the
word on RCV.
The history of election reform in this country
is the story of Black and brown people fighting for
our right to cast a ballot despite vicious voter suppression
laws, and that fight is nowhere near over,
as Stacey Abrams proved in Georgia this fall. We
are confident that Black voters will be able to rank
their preferences in an RCV election, just like everyone
else, but there’s a responsibility to community
groups, candidates and the city to make sure voters
feel empowered as they head to the ballot box.
The NAACP is on the job, just as we have been for
over 100 years.
Kenny Cohen is president of the northeast Queens
branch of the NAACP.
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