New York City Councilmember Crystal Hudson.

Crystal Hudson may have been in first place, but she was still not officially “first,” at least not until New York City’s system of ranked choice voting was applied. Then she became the winner.

Hudson was part of a webinar Tuesday night from the Democratic Party of Evanston, as DPOE tries to convince Evanstonians to change the way city officeholders are chosen.

“Ranked choice voting is the way to go,” Hudson said, reflecting on her own experience running for New York’s City Council, saying the system “empowered” the voters.

Switching to ranked choice is on the Evanston ballot Nov. 8.

Currently, Evanston has a non-partisan primary to narrow the field to two candidates if more than two file for a City Council seat, or the jobs of mayor or city clerk.

Then the general election determines the final outcome for all contested races.

But under the ranked choice proposal for Evanston, the primary is eliminated. In the general electio, voters list their preferences for each office — first, second, third, and so on.

If someone gets 50% plus one of the first-choice vote on Election Day, it’s over. That person wins outright.

But if no one gets a majority, the last place contender is eliminated, and vote redistribution based on choice begins, until somebody ends up with more than 50%.

So it was for Hudson, who led after the first round in New York’s City Council Democratic primary last summer, but had only 38% of the vote in an eight-person field.

But after two rounds of vote redistribution, she emerged on top with 54%, and went on to an overwhelming win against token opposition in the fall.

Mayor Daniel Biss, who was on the webinar, said he was speaking as a citizen and as a Democrat, not as mayor.

Biss conceded that while ranked choice voting can be confusing, it’s wrong to “get caught up in what’s least important for the voter,” namely the technicalities of the system.

Rather, Biss said, “what the voter needs to know is you rank your choices.”

If you want pick only one candidate, that’s OK.

But supporters say that the ranked choice plan makes coalition building more significant, and extremism less likely, because a candidate also has to campaign for second or even third place preferences.

If no one gets a majority, the last place candidate is eliminated, and, ballot language says, “Any voter who had that candidate as their top choice would have their vote transferred to their next choice.” The process of eliminating and transferring continues until somebody gets more than half.

Ironically, under the old system, Hudson would have won her primary because she had the highest vote total, even though was not a majority.

But she said getting a majority is important for governing. Plus, she said, ranked choice helped formerly “marginalized” and “non-traditional” candidates win.

Hudson is both Black and gay. Under ranked choice, not only did she win, but she said New York elected a Muslim, an Indian, and two Korean council members.

Plus, for the first time ever, New York City now has a female council majority.

Biss said eliminating the primary in Evanston should help increase help turnout in the general election.

There is no organized opposition to the Evanston measure, but Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Ald. Devon Reid (8th) have spoken against it.

The website Ballotpedia quotes Burns as saying “We’re talking about changing our voting system and folks want to rush this through. This is a horrible, horrible process for something as big as this.”

Reid has said he fears the measure would lead to more voter confusion.

Despite having the potential to be confusing, it’s rare, although not unheard of, for someone in second or third on Election Day to end up winning after votes are redistributed.

According to the site FairVote, only 3.8% of non-first-place candidates in ranked choice systems nationwide have actually ended getting elected.

One more thing.

There is no ranked choice when voting on ranked choice. It’s either “yes” or “no.”

If “yes” comes out ahead, ranked choice voting for Evanston municipal offices will start with the 2025 election.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. What are the cons of this? All we’ve heard are the pro’s? It can’t be 100% perfect, so my question is what are the cons?

    I’m voting no until I hear both sides of the argument. I wish Reid and Burns would elaborate more on why it’s “bad”.

    The current voting system isn’t broken – it’s as If we are doing change for the sake of change.

  2. Reid and Burns are against it because they both were in multi-candidate races during the last election which is where this comes into play.

    In Reid’s race, for instance, you had Ann Rainey and Matt Mitchell run against him in a primary. Under the ranked choice model, sensible folks who didn’t want Reid but were Rainey fans could have voted Rainey-Mitchell and maybe Mitchell would have won. Instead you had another election a month later between MItchell and Reid where Reid won by something like 40 votes.

  3. I’m ready for rank choice voting. The last Alderperson election was a disaster. Instead of getting someone who represent the majority of the ward we got the extremist Reid, a guy whose only commitment is to his own bizarre pet projects i.e legalizing rock throwing and decriminalizing burglar tools and advocating for tent cities in our ward.

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