Tuesday’s runoff election for public advocate – which cost the taxpayers $13.2 million for an office with a budget of about $2.3 million – is emblematic of a financially burdensome system that needs to change, the good government group Citizens Union said this week.
“The problem with the current runoff system is it’s costly and results in low voter turnout,” Alex Camarda, director of public policy and advocacy at Citizen’s Union, said Wednesday.
Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota even joked that both James and Squadron could be public advocates and it would still end up costing the taxpayers less than it would to hold the runoff.
Alongside Tuesday’s runoff election coming with a steep price tag, fewer than 200,000 Democrats cast their ballots in the runoff between Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Manhattan) – far fewer than the city’s 2.8 million registered Democrats.
Both James, who won the runoff with about 60 percent of the vote and will become the first black woman to hold a citywide office, and Squadron have criticized the costly runoff process, which occurred several weeks after the Sept. 10 primary. A runoff occurs in New York City when a primary’s frontrunner does not land 40 percent or more of the vote.
Instead of having an election system as it exists now, Citizens Union and a bevy of legislators are backing an instant runoff system.
In cities that currently have instant runoffs – including Minneapolis and San Francisco – residents rank the candidates when they vote. That way, if no candidate lands the minimum number of votes to be labeled the winner – so, for example, the 40 percent mark in New York – the votes for the last-place candidate would be redistributed to the others based on the rankings.
There are several versions of the instant runoff system that have been proposed in New York City, including one from Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and another from Councilwoman Gail Brewer (D-Manhattan). Camarda said government watchdogs are pleased with both, though he noted that Lander’s is a more expansive proposal while Brewer’s is more limited in scope.
Lander’s bill would apply to all residents voting in primaries for citywide offices, as well as borough president offices, and special elections for City Council.
Brewer’s legislation would only make absentee voters in primaries rank the candidates running for citywide positions.
So far, Brewer’s bill has garnered more support than Lander’s, so far garnering 28 cosponsors compared to the Brooklyn politician’s 19 cosponsors.
Camarda noted that, for the first time, it seems that the majority of Council members support “an instant runoff in some form.”
“This is something groups like ours have been advocating for years,” he said. “But this is the first time we’ve actually gotten legislation introduced at the city level.”
Still, not everyone is jumping to back the instant runoff system – including current Public Advocate and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.
“There’s a certain incompleteness to it – there’s a certain cursory nature to it that worries me,” de Blasio told The New York Times. “I think it’s very important that people get to weigh their choices fully. And, for example, if a seemingly less popular candidate ends up in a runoff, people would have another chance to really get to know that person. I want to think a little more about it.”
By Anna Gustafson