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Is Ranked-Choice Voting Coming to New Jersey

Support grows for ranked-choice voting in municipal, school board elections

by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
April 18, 2024

As the fight over the county line unfolds, some lawmakers say now is the time to bring ranked-choice voting to local elections in New Jersey.

With federal judges ordering county clerks to use a new kind of ballot for June’s Democratic primaries, this is “exactly the time to have this conversation,” said Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex).

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“If we’re changing the ballot design, flip the switch to do the whole thing at once, and let’s change how people vote. This is the perfect time to do it together,” Zwicker said.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to choose multiple candidates and rank them in order of preference. It’s used statewide in Alaska and Maine and in dozens of cities nationwide. New York City voters first used it in the 2021 mayoral race.

Supporters say ranked-choice voting makes voters more enthusiastic about casting ballots. They say it encourages candidates to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate — making campaigns less negative — and allows voters to support minor or protest candidates without feeling like they’re throwing their vote away.

“People feel they can vote their true preference. They don’t have to be strategic. All of a sudden, people feel that their vote counts, that they have the ability to vote for somebody they like instead of, say, oh I really liked that candidate, but they’re not going to win,” said Renée Steinhagen of Voter Choice NJ, which backs ranked-voice voting.

2021 study found young voters are more likely to vote in places with ranked-choice voting. It also says by giving people the chance to rank candidates, it may “decrease the chances that one’s vote becomes wasted, providing greater individual influence and satisfaction with the process.”

Zwicker is a chief sponsor of a bill that would allow towns and school boards to move forward with ranked-choice voting in local elections, if the town’s voters approve via a referendum. State elections officials would adopt rules and regulations necessary to guide local election officials in how to implement the new system and tabulate votes.

Critics of the system say it is too confusing for voters. Instead of choosing one candidate, voters rank multiple candidates from first to last. If no candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the second-place votes are distributed to the remaining candidates. This continues until one candidate achieves a majority.

Two New Jersey cities so far, Hoboken and Jersey City, have passed ordinances that would allow them to move to ranked-choice voting if Zwicker’s legislation passes and voters in those cities approve. Activists in Red Bank and Princeton are pushing for their governing bodies to enact similar legislation.

“It’s a major change for how elections are run. Once we get the state-enabling bill and some municipalities start using it, will voters clamor for it to be all elections? That’s what we hope,” said Steinhagen. “I do think, at least on the local level, it’d be really helpful and contribute to some positive change.”

Jersey City Councilman James Solomon is one of the co-sponsors of the ordinance to implement ranked-choice voting in that city’s local elections. He said he envisions more positive campaigns because candidates won’t want to turn off voters who may rank them second or third.

“I think for us, we’re trying to say, look, it’s not just enough to say we’re getting rid of this bad, antiquated system. We should actually replace it with the very best kind of practice of what democracy can look like in this country,” said Solomon, a Democrat.

Assemblyman John Allen (D-Hudson) recently introduced a companion to Zwicker’s bill in the lower chamber. On social media, he said Hoboken and Jersey City are “leading by example by creating more fair and democratic elections.” Sen. Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said the system will “make our elections more civil.”

Zwicker also has a bill that would use ranked-choice voting in all state elections, but he’s pushing for small steps right now. He noted that county election officials are grappling with judicial orders to use a new ballot for June’s Democratic primaries, an order that stems from Rep. Andy Kim’s federal challenge of county-line ballots that could lead to a permanent end to county-line ballots.

“I wouldn’t do it tomorrow because of all of this uncertainty, but I think this is the right time, it’s in the weeks ahead. We’ll get a better understanding of what’s happening long-term, and this is absolutely the right time to address it legislatively,” he said.



New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence T. McDonald for questions: [email protected]. Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.