Plurality Winners in New York City Elections (2005)
Plurality voting, whereby the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins, is the norm in most American elections, including in most New York City elections.  As a result, time and again we witness some of our most powerful elected offices filled with candidates who were not supported by the majority of voters.

This problem is compounded when plurality voting is also used in primary elections. Party primaries often see a crowded field of candidates from across the political spectrum vying for a single nomination. This frequently leads to a party's nominee representing a large and diverse constituency in the general election, after having only garnered the support of a small fraction of the party's supporters. New York City elections, including in this year, are historically riddled with examples of plurality winners being nominated and later elected with the support of only a fraction of the electorate. In a general election, this same candidate can go on to win again without a majority of voters' support. An equally likely scenario, however, is that a party's eventual nominee is not the strongest candidate that they could have endorsed for the general election.

The city in its mayoral elections has attempted to solve this problem by adopting a two-round runoff system, but as demonstrated in this year's Democratic Party mayoral primary - even this solution fails. The costs of conducting this second round runoff can also be substantial, as jurisdictions must print ballots, recruit and train pollworkers, locate precincts, and prepare voting equipment -- not once, but twice. In New York City, a second round runoff election costs approximately $10 million of precious taxpayer and city resources. In addition, second round runoffs are held shortly after the first round election, creating numerous administrative hurdles for election officials. For example, ballots must be printed quickly after the first round, but not until officials know who the top two vote-getters are. Likewise, this process can often disenfranchise overseas and absentee voters, who will not have enough time to return their ballots after they have been printed and mailed to them. Lastly, two-round runoff elections require candidates to raise money twice, often requiring an influx of additional special interest contributions for the second round runoff, and they cause drops in voter turnout, as they require voters to go to the polls twice.

New York could learn from the San Francisco model, and implement instant runoff voting (IRV) to produce party nominees with the support of more voters in one round instead of two, thereby saving millions of dollars and avoiding drops in turnout. In contrast to the two-round runoff system, IRV simulates a series of runoffs on one ballot. By ranking candidates in order of preference, the voter expresses his/her will in each round of counting, rendering moot the need for a second election. In a traditional runoff system, if your candidate makes it to the runoff, you would continue to support that person by voting for him/her a second time. Similarly, under IRV, if your favorite candidate advances after the first round of counting, your ballot would continue to support him/her. However, since the tallying is conducted on one ballot, taxpayers save the cost of a second election, voters don't have to return to the polls, and candidates don't need to fundraise and campaign for an extended period. Avoding the turnout drop associated with second round elections also means that the majority required to win under IRV represents  the support of a much larger number of voters than in traditional runoffs.

Below we have highlighted the low plurality winners in New York City's 2005 primary races:

Plurality Winners in New York City Elections (2005)

Candidate # of votes % of votes  
Manhattan Borough President  
Scott M. Stringer [Dem] 37966 25.71%  
Eva S. Moskowitz [Dem] 24676 16.71%  
Margarita Lopez [Dem] 19495 13.20%  
Brian Ellner [Dem] 17069 11.56%  
Bill Perkins [Dem] 16144 10.93%  
Adriano Espaillat [Dem] 13499 9.14%  
Keith L. T. Wright [Dem] 8045 5.45%  
Stanley Michels [Dem] 5640 3.82%  
Carlos Manzano [Dem] 5116 3.46%  
Brooklyn District Attorney  
Charles J. Hynes [Dem] 45368 41.34%  
John L. Sampson [Dem] 40353 36.77%  
Mark G. Peters [Dem] 16553 15.08%  
Arnold N. Kriss [Dem] 7474 6.81%  
Manhattan City Council Races (District 2)  
Rosie Mendez [Dem] 5113 36.42%  
Brian P. Kavanagh [Dem] 2614 18.62%  
Gur Tsabar [Dem] 2300 16.38%  
Darren Bloch [Dem] 2145 15.28%  
Michael P. Beys [Dem] 957 6.82%  
Joan J. Brightharp [Dem] 597 4.25%  
Christopher J. Papajohn [Dem] 312 2.22%  
Manhattan City Council Races (District 8)  
Melissa Mark Viverito [Dem] 3626 25.41%  
Felipe Luciano [Dem] 3610 25.30%  
Joyce S. Johnson [Dem] 2744 19.23%  
Nelson Denis [Dem] 2335 16.36%  
John Ruiz [Dem] 1575 11.04%  
Edwin Marcial [Dem] 380 2.66%  
Manhattan City Council Races (District 9)  
Inez E. Dickens [Dem] 4363 28.13%  
Yasmin H. Cornelius [Dem] 3223 20.78%  
Cynthia L. Doty [Dem] 2710 17.47%  
Virgina Montague [Dem] 1966 12.68%  
Rodney L. Carroll [Dem] 1335 8.61%  
William A. Allen [Dem] 736 4.75%  
I. Ronnie Holly [Dem] 648 4.18%  
Woody Henderson [Dem] 527 3.40%  
Brooklyn City Council Races (District 38)  
Sara M. Gonzalez [Dem] 2216 44.07%  
Edward Rodriguez [Dem] 1655 32.92%  
David Galarza [Dem] 1157 23.01%  
Brooklyn City Council Races (District 41)  
Darlene Mealy [Dem] 4415 47.01%  
William F. Boyland [Dem] 1748 18.61%  
Danny King [Dem] 863 9.19%  
Royston P. Antoine [Dem] 563 6.00%  
Stanley Kinard [Dem] 477 5.08%  
David R. Miller [Dem] 311 3.31%  
Alicka Ampry-Samuel [Dem] 306 3.26%  
Pamela M. Junior [Dem] 295 3.14%  
Essie M. Duggan [Dem] 272 2.90%  
Maryam A. Samad [Dem] 141 1.50%  
Queens City Council Races (District 28)  
Thomas White [Dem] 2568 40.50%  
Allan W. Jennings [Dem] 1914 30.18%  
Albert Baldeo [Dem] 984 15.52%  
Dhanpaul Narine [Dem] 471 7.43%  
Robby S. Mahadeo [Dem] 404 6.37%  
Bronx City Council Races (District 8)  
Melissa Mark Viverito [Dem] 3626 25.41%  
Felipe Luciano [Dem] 3610 25.30%  
Joyce S. Johnson [Dem] 2744 19.23%  
Nelson Denis [Dem] 2335 16.36%  
John Ruiz [Dem] 1575 11.04%  
Edwin Marcial [Dem] 380 2.66%  
Bronx City Council Races (District 13)  
James Vacca [Dem] 3433 38.41%  
Stephen B. Kaufman [Dem] 2297 25.70%  
Joseph McManus [Dem] 1824 20.41%  
Ismael Betancourt [Dem] 907 10.15%  
Egidio Sementilli [Dem] 476 5.33%