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Originally Published: September 11, 2013

Citizens Union calls on the City Council to pass IRV legislation

Given that the city will hold a legally required but unnecessary low voter turnout runoff election on October 1st for Public Advocate and possibly for the Democratic nomination for Mayor, Citizens Union today calls on the New York City Council to put an end to runoff elections for citywide elections once and for all. This change can be easily achieved by passing a bill (Intro. 1066) which would allow voters to rank their choice of candidates, eliminating the need for a runoff. The bill, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, would put into place Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) once voters then approve the change in a referendum, and make this the last year New York City ever has to endure a challenging, expensive runoff election.

“It’s high time we ditch expensive, low-turnout runoff elections and give New Yorkers a simple solution: Instant Runoff Voting,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.

Having each failed to secure more than 40 percent of the vote, Public Advocate candidates Letitia James and Daniel Squadron will face each other in a runoff election. This runoff will cost taxpayers about $20 million—by contrast, the annual budget for the office of Public Advocate is only $2 million.

Turnout is also problematic for runoffs. In 2009, the Public Advocate runoff drew only 7.3 percent of the primary electorate—a drop from 11 percent in the initial election.

It’s also still unclear if Bill de Blasio earned more than 40 percent of the vote in yesterday’s mayoral primary, leaving it uncertain if he will face Bill Thompson in a runoff election.

“This haze of uncertainty is toxic to our democracy,” added Dadey. “Thompson and de Blasio cannot properly campaign and offer voters a forthright choice until it’s known whether there will even be a runoff. We may not know for at least week, if not longer with counting and possible legal challenges to follow. And that far fewer voters will vote in a runoff election means candidates are nominated with even less support who may in fact win election to a citywide office.”

There is also a bill under consideration, Intro. 1108, that would at least allow the City to test instant runoff voting as a pilot program for absentee and military voters. Intro. 1108 is sponsored by Council Member Gale Brewer and has quickly attracted 24 co-sponsors.

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