Senators Unveil Proposals to End Runoff Elections

December 04, 2009

Today, Senator’s Bill Perkins, Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., and Liz Krueger joined with advocates and supporters to call for the end of expensive and outdated runoff elections in New York. This year, less than three percent of New York City residents voted in runoffs which cost taxpayers an astounding $15 million. Eliminating runoffs would free up millions of dollars that could be better spent on vital city services.Legislation sponsored by Senate Elections Committee Chair Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. and Senator Bill Perkins (S6248) would eliminate runoff elections across the state. Another proposal sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger (S3584) would authorize the use of instantaneous runoff voting. Citywide, fewer than eight percent of registered Democrats cast a ballot, while no votes were recorded in scores of the 6,100 election districts across New York City. As a result, the election cost taxpayers approximately $72 dollars a vote.“The record low voter turnout and $15 million price tag for this year’s runoff election prove that this system no longer works for the people of New York,” said Senate Elections Committee Chair Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. “Eliminating runoffs will allow this money to go where it is needed most – to our children, seniors and other essential city services.”“We should eliminate runoff elections because they undermine democracy with a contrived electoral process,” said Senator Perkins, co-sponsor of the bill to eliminate runoffs. “The threshold number of votes necessary in order to trigger a runoff is arbitrary and unscientific. Further, the expense is unconscionable, especially in these economic times. People should have their opportunity to be heard at the ballot box and whichever candidate gets the most votes is the one who should win. Period.”Senator Krueger’s proposal allows primary voters to indicate their top choices of candidate for an office by ranking them first, second, third, etc. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the first choice votes, then the candidate receiving the fewest votes is eliminated and the second choice of the candidate’s voters receives their votes. If no candidate then has 50 percent of the votes, the remaining candidate with the next fewest votes is eliminated, and the next choice of that candidate’s voters receives their votes. This process continues until one candidate has received 50 percent of the vote. “Runoffs are extremely costly and only a tiny fraction of voters participate," said Senator Krueger. "This past election cycle in New York City we had a runoff for Comptroller and Public Advocate in which fewer than eight percent of the registered Democrat voters went to the polls but the City spent over $15 million dollars. If my legislation is passed New York would be able to use an instant runoff system where if someone doesn't garner a majority of the vote, the second choice votes will be selected at the same time on the same day. This would let everyone know the outcome of the 'instant runoff’ that day, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and ensuring that candidates with the maximum turnout of primary voters are elected. Since the State and City are moving to paper ballots with optical scanners as the new voting machine technology, it will not be complicated to change to this multiple choice voting system."Voters in more than ten cities have approved instant runoff voting including: Memphis (TN), Minneapolis (MN), Oakland (CA), San Francisco (CA), Burlington (VT), Sarasota (FL), Berkeley (CA), Sante Fe (NM), Ferndale (MI), and Takoma Park (MD).  These proposals are part of the Elections Committee’s ongoing work to provide oversight of the state’s elections and reform election laws that often have the effect of disenfranchising voters and preventing qualified candidates from running for office.  The Elections Committee has held hearings across the state on legislation concerning voter registration, ballot access, voter suppression, poll site management, electronic voting and campaign finance.