NEW YORK — Mayoral candidate Eric Adams on Tuesday night criticized the education campaign for ranked-choice voting, saying so far it is failing everyday New Yorkers.
"There are so many unanswered questions. When I speak to everyday New Yorkers and Brooklynites, they have no clue what's coming down the pipe," Adams said in a Tuesday night interview with Inside City Hall anchor Errol Louis. "Voting can't be for the astute, the technically astute people. It must be for everyone, and we're not ready right now."
Efforts to postpone the introduction of ranked-choice voting in New York City have intensified lately as special elections that will test the new method draw close. Six City Council members recently filed a lawsuit to halt its use in a February 2 special election.
The system, which New Yorkers approved overwhelmingly last year in a referendum, has voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority, the worst-performing candidate is eliminated and their votes are redistributed. That process continues until someone gets more than 50% of the vote.
Supporters argue ranked-choice voting — which will only be used in New York City elections — creates fairer elections and campaigns, forcing candidates to campaign to all New Yorkers and build broader coalitions instead of focusing on small voter bases. Ranked-choice voting also eliminates the need for costly runoffs.
But critics argue the lack of education about ranked-choice voting will confuse and disadvantage non-white New Yorkers.
Adams agrees with those critics. The Brooklyn borough president maintains he supports ranked-choice voting, but he says the education campaign needs more funding than "$1 million in post cards." He says voters must be educated in a variety of languages about what the new system of voting is and how they can cast their ballot.
"History has shown every new barrier, or every new step you put in the process, my seniors, people who are in economically challenging communities, they are impacted by this," Adams said.
Adams also says he supports letting the courts determine ranked-choice voting's fate.
Those who back the changes point out that the city and the New York City Board of Elections still have six months to educate voters before the June primaries, and argue if any awareness campaign was implemented before the presidential election — which did not use ranked-choice voting — would have confused New Yorkers given all the changes to the voting process they had to learn about to safely cast their ballot during a pandemic.
How to Best Fund Elections
While the debate over ranked-choice voting continues, on Tuesday, $17.3 million in public-matching funds were approved for 61 candidates for office in the city. The New York City Campaign Finance Board announced Adams received nearly $4.4 million in public-matching funds, more than any other candidate for mayor. He and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are the only mayoral candidates who qualified in this first round. They met the threshold of raising at least $250,000 from 1,000 city residents.
Despite that advantage, Adams called for fully publicly-funded elections with a cap on how much a candidate can spend.
"Give us all $1 million and say, 'That's it. We're giving you $1 million and you have to run a race based on that $1 million and meet people,'" Adams suggested.
It's unlikely such parameters would pass anytime soon, particularly since the city is facing a massive budget crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic. Already, the city matches donations at an 8-to-1 ratio for candidates who qualify for the funds.
Adams touts himself as the "United Nations candidate," with donations from a cross-section of New Yorkers from various backgrounds, but when asked if he would reject money from certain donors, such as lobbyists and the real estate industry, the Democrat waived off that idea as a "purity test" and insisted he was running a small-dollar campaign. Several of his rivals in the primary have said they don't intend to accept such donations.
A COVID Surcharge?
In his interview with NY1, Adams also weighed in on a bubbling issue as New York stares down a fiscal crisis: whether to increase taxes on the wealthy. While such a proposal is popular in the Democratic Party overall, some insiders have expressed concerns that increasing taxes will lead to New Yorkers with higher incomes to leave the state.
Adams told Louis he supports a "COVID surcharge…that can sunset for a period of time for those who are making, annually, $5 million or more a year." He did not provide further details.
Any new tax would have to pass in the state government, where lawmakers are debating the issue and what the thresholds should be.
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Watch the full interview above.
This story includes reporting from Emily Ngo.
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