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Ranked choice voting could come to Hoboken, but hurdles remain

A state law and local referendum are needed to authorize a new voting system

The Hoboken City Council approved a trigger ordinance for ranked choice voting, but the triggers make the timeline for actual implementation unknown. Photo by Mark Koosau.

Back in December, the Hoboken City Council adopted a trigger ordinance that could bring ranked choice voting to the Mile Square City. But the specific triggers that are needed for it to become a reality make it unknown when it could happen.

Ranked choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, is a voting system that has been catching on in recent years in the U.S.

Voters choose and rank their candidates in order of preference instead of choosing only one candidate. The results then calculate the first choices of all candidates; if a candidate wins a majority of the votes, they will win outright. But if no candidate receives a 50 percent  majority, the instant runoff system begins.

The candidate with the least amount of first choice votes gets eliminated, and that candidate’s votes gets redistributed to the next choice of the candidate on those ballots. The system continues until one candidate receives a majority or is the one with the most votes at the end.

Under the ordinance, the city would have to wait until the state Legislature passes a law allowing the usage of it, and hold a referendum on the first November after such legislation to decide whether or not they’ll use it for local elections.

“I think [ranked choice voting] provides a lower barrier to entry for somebody who’s not necessarily like a mainstream candidate, said Council Vice President Emily Jabbour, who was one of the sponsors of the ordinance. “It gives you the opportunity to better express your preferences rather than just picking one person in a universe of multiple candidates.”

 

Council Vice President Emily Jabbour said that part of the reason for the ordinance was to get state legislators behind ranked choice voting. Photo by Mark Koosau.

Proponents of ranked choice voting argue that the system prevents spoiler votes by allowing voters to choose a candidate that they prefer, and also promotes more moderate candidates. Critics of it argue that it can be complicated and confusing for voters, and that it encourages horsetrading between candidates.

Ranked choice voting is currently used statewide in Maine and Alaska, as well as in cities such as New York City, San Francisco and Minneapolis.

Jabbour said that part of the impetus for passing the ordinance back then was to get state legislators behind ranked choice voting. She referenced a bill that was introduced by Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro, who is from and represents Hoboken in the 32nd District, but the bill didn’t go anywhere in the previous legislative session.

There is currently one bill for ranked choice voting in the current legislative session that would create ranked choice voting for federal and state elections, but does not establish it for local municipalities.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, who also represents the 32nd District, said that while he would have to give ranked choice voting more thought and that he hadn’t discussed it with his colleagues, he is open minded to it. “I guess it’s probably something we should give some more thought to and deliberate,” he said.

Jabbour said that she hopes that more people will continue to learn about it.

“I think on its face it seems like it’s a complicated process, and then when you sit down and look at the benefits of it, I think people appreciate that it really addresses a lot of the long standing concerns that people have had about of some of the structures of party politics in Hoboken,” she said.

For updates on this and other stories, check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.

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