Instant Runoff Voting in NY?

New York City’s system of expensive and time-consuming primary runoffs may be on its way out.

As part of an electoral legislation package, the State Senate Monday passed a bill, sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger, that would set up a three-year trial requiring instant runoff voting in city and county races throughout the state. Instant runoff elections tend to be popular with good government groups, as they prevent candidates from winning with a small portion of the vote, and would cut down on the cost of a second runoff election.

Here’s the explanation of how instant runoff would work, from the bill’s summary:

“IRV gives voters the option to rank candidates according to the order of their choice. If no candidate obtains a majority of first-choice votes, then the candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Each vote cast for the eliminated candidate shall be Transferred to the candidate who was the voter’s next choice on the ballot. The process is continued until a candidate receives a majority of the votes.”

This past fall, the runoffs for two races of City Comptroller and Public Advocate saw quite low turnout and the eventual winners were the two candidates who had garnered the most in the first round (John Liu and Bill de Blasio, respectively). For citywide offices, a runoff is called for if no candidate receives at least 40 percent of the vote.

Whether or not this will just be a one-house bill is unclear, though there are a few bills (including a companion bill by Brian Kavanagh) sitting in the Assembly—which is also controlled by Democrats—that would do the same thing. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver declined to comment beyond saying there were a number of bills in committee on the issue.

Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who has a bill that would allow runoff voting in New York City, said he did not know what would come of his legislation, but predicted the Assembly would pass an election reform package of its own before the end of session, which ends this month.

“I don’t have any specific knowledge that it’s going to be reported out of committee,” he said of his bill, “but I’d be surprised if we end the session without some kind of election reform package.”

ebrown@observer.com