On Tuesday voters across New York will go to the polls for their state-level primary elections. I live in the 65th Assembly District of New York. Until last year I was represented by Sheldon Silver, who had to leave office after being convicted of corruption. He chose Alice Cancel to take his spot and she won the special election to fill the seat. Now she is up against five competitors for the Democratic primary. Putting aside any additional information about her, the New York Times believes that she is “unequipped for the job and seems detached from the community … Any of Ms. Cancel’s five challengers would be an improvement.” First, even if this is the prevailing opinion of the voters, it is really hard to get rid of bad legislatures when whomever gets the most votes (not necessarily above 50%) wins elections. Second, since no one really knows what goes on in state legislatures, this is where the New York Times has some serious sway.
Imagine if people were divided into two camps, pro-Cancel and anti-Cancel; with five challengers Cancel can still win with well less than 50% of the vote. If 17% of the people support Cancel, she could win the election, if the other five split their votes evenly. But, random chance, with a low voter turnout, will lead to one of the candidate winning more than the others. Not to mention ballot order helping whomever draws the top slot! Still, it is a sobering start to how hard it is to remove an entrenched incumbent, if there is a split to the challenge.
Of course, people are not voting randomly, because the New York Times endorsed Yuh-Line Niou. So, many strategic voters in the anti-Cancel group will vote for Niou, because with the New York Times endorsement she is the most likely to pull away from the pack and challenge Cancel. That is a shame if you are strong supporter of the other four candidates. If we had a run-off between the top two, you could vote for whomever you supported and then vote for whichever of the anti-Cancel five came out on top. Or, even better as a cost saver, we could have you submit a first, second, and third place vote. Then, the board of elections can do an automatic run-off. First, the top six are compared and the one with the least votes is dropped until someone has 50% or more support.
Unfortunately, until we change our voting system, the incumbent is likely to win and the New York Times will have an outsized impact on any surprising victory by the anti-incumbent challenge.
PS. It should be noted that I literally think about politics all of the time, but was not bothering to worry about my own Assembly race until I received this anonymous attack post-card in the mail about Niou. As far as I know no one has claimed responsibility or proven to have sent it.