Home News What is a leaderboard vote and why does New York City use it?

What is a leaderboard vote and why does New York City use it?

In the letter

A ranking vote is used in the election of the next Democratic and Republican candidate for mayoral.

On June 22, 2021, registered voters from the Democratic and Republican parties will take part in one of the most important primaries in New York City history - with an entirely new voting system. These elections for mayors, auditors, public advocates, district presidents, and councilors will be the city's first major test of the ranked election. Instead of voting for one candidate to win the party's nomination, voters will place up to five candidates on the ballot in order of preference.

Voting on rankings is not inherently complicated, but any change in the voting process can confuse and discourage voters. To avoid confusion with the surveys, here are some things you need to know.

How does ranking selection work under the New York City system?

Voters are given a ballot paper that allows them to list up to five candidates in order of preference instead of voting for just one candidate. You have to choose different candidates for each rank. Voters can still only vote for one candidate for each office if they prefer. The ranking of other candidates does not harm the first choice of a voter.

To determine the winner, all of the initial votes of each candidate are added together. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first election votes, he wins the election. If, however, no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first election votes, it is counted in rounds. In each round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.

Who is on the ballot?

Learn more about the candidates

If your first-choice candidate is eliminated because he had the fewest votes, your second-choice candidate moves up and counts as your vote in the next round. And then if your second choice is knocked out in the next round, your vote will carry over to your third choice, and so on. In other words, in your vote counts once in each round , and it counts for the highest ranked candidate on your ballot who was not eliminated, whether that is your first or fifth choice.

This round-by-round process will continue until there are only two candidates left. The candidate with the most votes in the final wins the primary.

Why did New York City introduce leaderboard picking?

New York City, like the rest of the country, suffers from low turnout, negative campaigning, and candidates won by majorities that make up only a small percentage of the electorate. A ranking list vote was implemented to improve the representativeness of the voting system. New York City has been considering ranking picks for decades. A voting measure was finally proposed by the 2019 Charter Review Commission and approved by 73 percent of voters.

Ranking election addresses the issues of both the plurality system used to nominate and elect city council members and the hybrid plurality / runoff election system used particularly in the election of mayors, auditors and public advocates in races of three or more Candidates. In a city with an already low turnout, it has violated our precarious system of representative government for voters to vote a second time in the primary and then a third time in the general election. There is no runoff vote in the ranking choice voting, so we do not risk a decline in the number of votes. And since the city does not have a runoff, the city also avoids the cost of a runoff.

Most important to democracy is ranked voting, which gives voters more say in voting by giving them the opportunity to express more preferences on their ballot paper. Voters can vote for another candidate who best represents them if it turns out that their first candidate has little support from other voters. Even if the candidate of a voter's first election does not win, his vote remains important in choosing the winner through the ranking of other candidates.

The ranking poll has also resulted in more diverse and representative candidates entering and winning the polls. In studies in four California cities - San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro - the ranked election did not negatively affect the candidacy rates for women and blacks and increased the likelihood that candidates in these groups would win elections compared to plural elections. In another study, researchers from several universities analyzed voting behavior in four jurisdictions - Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana; Cincinnati, Ohio; Pasadena, Texas; and Jones County, North Carolina - noting that the ranking polls consistently offer slightly better representation for minority groups.

This voting system can also change the dynamics of a campaign and lead to more politeness and less negative campaigns. Candidates are encouraged to build broader electoral coalitions during the campaign as candidates who are not your first choice may need your support to win. In city-wide elections with multiple candidates, it is difficult for a candidate to reach the 50 percent threshold in the first ballot. A victorious campaign recognizes the dangers of a negative campaign in an election where victory might very well depend on a voter's second or third choice.

The legitimacy of democratic systems of government depends on the consent of the governed by voting. If many people do not vote, as has been the case in New York for decades, we are endangering our democracy. Voting with rankings simply gives us a bigger voice in our democracy.

To learn more about leaderboard selection, visit New York City Campaign Finance Board Campaign and NYC Civic Engagement Commission, the NYC Electoral Board , WhosOnTheBallot.org , or Ranking NY .


Ester R. Fuchs is Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program, and Director of director WhosOnTheBallot.org .


This column is editorially independent of Colombia News .

Receive Columbia News in your Tags Policy Inbox

Interesting Articles

Editor'S Choice

A league of its own
A league of its own
PhD program
PhD program
Earn a Ph.D. in social work from Columbia University. We have a prestigious and influential Ph.D. Program since 1950.
Carlos Sandoval
Carlos Sandoval
Zeynep Celik zum Antrittsprofessor von Sakip Sabanci ernannt
Zeynep Celik zum Antrittsprofessor von Sakip Sabanci ernannt
July 1, 2021 - Dr. Zeynep Çelik was named the first Sakıp Sabancı Visiting Professor at the Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies at Columbia University. Her in-depth expertise and unique historical perspective on the architecture and urban planning of the region will enhance the goals of the Sakıp Sabancı Center.
Lynnise E. Pantin
Lynnise E. Pantin
Lynnise Pantin ’03 is the founding director of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic. Students at the clinic develop legal skills by providing legal services in a range of transactional, intellectual property and governance matters to community organizations and low and middle income entrepreneurs. Pantin's pedagogy is shaped by her scholarship, which focuses on the systemic socio-economic barriers that colored and humble entrepreneurs face. Her recent journal articles include The Economic Justice Imperative for Transactional Law Clinics in the Villanova Law Review and The Wealth Gap and the Racial Disparities in the Startup Ecosystem. Pantin joined Columbia Law School in 2019 after opening her clinic as a visiting professor for a year. Previously, she was the founder and director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Clinic at Boston College Law School and co-founder of the Transactional Law Clinic at New York Law School, where she taught legal practice and directed the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative of the Impact Center for Public Welfare Law. Pantin began her career as an Associate at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP practicing corporate and securities law in the investment management group of the firm's corporate division. She advised private investment funds, their sponsors and investors on all issues relating to the establishment and operation of national and international funds. It also provided free business transaction, incorporation and governance, and regulatory compliance services to nonprofits and small businesses. Prior to becoming an attorney, Pantin was an elementary school teacher in Washington, D.C.
Qin Gao
Qin Gao
Qin Gao is a leading authority on the Chinese social system and founding director of Columbia University's China Center for Social Policy, the
Anti-Racist Education in Action: First Steps
Anti-Racist Education in Action: First Steps