(CNN)Democrats running for New York City mayor will square off in a crucial debate Wednesday night, but they won’t just be trying to convince voters that they’re the best candidate for the job — being someone’s second, third, fourth or even fifth favorite could be almost as good.
Unlike past elections, Big Apple voters will pick their party nominees for mayor on June 22 using ranked-choice voting, and it could take weeks to determine the winners.
City officials are working to ensure voters not only go to the polls but make the most of their ballots.
“Our campaign is really informed by the belief that New Yorkers face too many challenges, as it is, and learning about rank choice voting should not be one of them,” Laura Wood, the city’s chief democracy officer, told CNN. “We have this plan to reach out to all New Yorkers in the next three weeks and ensure that they understand it, and that they are prepared to make their voice heard at the ballot box.”
Here’s what you need to know about the process.
What is ranked-choice voting?
This will be the first time voters will be able to rank their top five choices in order of preference for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president and city council instead of selecting just one candidate for each spot.
The stakes are high. Thirteen candidates are running for the Democratic nomination for mayor, with the winner heavily favored in November’s general election. (Two Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination.)
Supporters of ranked-choice voting argue this allows voters to have more say over who is actually elected, while avoiding expensive and time-consuming runoff elections.
To calculate the winner, the first-choice votes of each ballot are counted. If no one receives a majority of the vote (which is unlikely in such a large field), the candidate with the least support is eliminated from contention, and votes for that candidate are redistributed to whomever the voter marked as their second choice. That process continues until a winner is determined.
Officials with the New York City Board of Elections announced Tuesday they will release the first choices of early and in-person votes on Election Night but won’t start the ranked-choice tabulation process for another week.
Absentee ballots won’t be included then because of New York’s elections law which don’t allow them to be opened until June 28 to give officials time to ensure there are no duplicate votes. Starting July 6, the board will run the ranked-choice count weekly, including absentee ballots that have been validated since the prior round.
As of Tuesday, 152,817 absentee ballots had been sent out by elections officials. Citywide, more than 12,000 had already been returned.
“In order to do this process in the best way, we need to balance the public’s right to know who won the election and the individual voter’s right to cast abs
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