A bill to end the city’s current primary runoff system could put an end to the pricey, low-turnout process by the next mayoral election in 2017, potentially saving the city millions, advocates say. Many voters and elected officials were outraged last fall when the city had to spend more than $13 million dollars on a single runoff between then-City Councilwoman Letitia James and State Sen. Dan Squadron — after neither candidate got more than the required 40 percent of the vote for Democratic Public Advocate. Under the new system, primary voters would rank candidates in order of preference in a process known as instant-runoff voting, or IRV, in the voting booth on primary day. The candidate with the least support gets dropped, and the vote for that candidate gets transferred to the voter’s next choice. The process continues until a candidate reaches the 40 percent threshold.
“There is value in making sure whoever wins a primary has real, strong support,” said Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander, who introduced the bill to implement IRV this week.
Fewer than 203,000 voters turned out for the James-Squadron runoff, less than half of the already-low primary turnout of 530,000 votes, officials said. In addition, advocates of the new bill say, James beat Squadron with nearly 60 percent of the runoff vote, after having bested all candidates on primary night with 36.1 percent of the vote.
If IRV had been in effect, her primary night vote could have been sufficient to catapult her to victory without the pricey runoff vote, advocates say. It would have also reduced the strain on agencies including the NYPD, which had to deploy officers to oversee the voting, the Department of Education and the Housing Authority which lent space for voting machines, advocates say.