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CIANA Explains: The NYC Primary Elections

The NYC Primary Elections are set to take place on June 22, 2021. Currently up for election are the roles of mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, and various city council positions, as well as a Democratic Party primary race for district attorney.

CIANA is encouraging all registered NYC voters to use their voice by finding their local poll site and getting out to vote for the future leaders of our city. In-person early voting at poll sites takes place from June 12th to June 20th, and absentee ballots can be requested until June 15th. On Election Day, June 22nd, poll sites will be open for in-person voting and absentee ballot drop off. Voters should make sure to check the hours their local polling sites will be open, as hours can vary by location.

There are also few new things in this election which are particularly important to pay attention to. First, the recently implemented Ranked Choice Voting system. This system of voting was approved in 2019, and designed to give voters more of a voice over the entire election and candidate pool. Second, there are several key issues currently in discussion by various candidates which have the potential to significantly impact immigrant communities.

Ranked Choice Voting

What’s Ranked Choice Voting?

Before, New Yorkers could only cast one vote for one candidate in primary elections. Now with the introduction of Ranked Choice Voting, voters can rank up to five candidates for a single position on their ballot in order of personal preference. For example, a voter can rank their first choice for mayor as #1 on their ballot, their second-choice candidate as #2, their third-choice candidate as #3, and so on.

Voters are still allowed to vote for just one candidate, and can also choose to rank less than five candidates. You do not have to rank all five candidates if you only like one or two. Both images below are examples of correctly completed ballots.

How Does Someone Win the Election Under Ranked Choice Voting?

Before, when each voter only cast one vote for one candidate, it was pretty simple to figure out who won: all the individual votes would be added up, and the candidate with the most votes won. Under Ranked Choice, since voters have the option to express their preferences for multiple candidates, the vote tallying process takes place in several rounds.

In the first round, all the first-choice votes are tallied. First choice votes allocated to a candidate when a voter ranks them as #1 on their ballot. For example, on the ballot above, Candidate A would receive the voter’s first-choice vote. If a candidate receives more than 50% of first-choice votes in this first round, that candidate wins the election.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of first-choice votes, the vote tallying process moves to a second round. In this second round several adjustments are made:

First, the candidate with the least amount of first-choice votes is eliminated from the election. Next, all of the first-choice votes given to the eliminated candidate are added to the vote total of the candidate each voter selected as their second-choice.

Using the image as an example, let’s say Candidate A, who was this voter’s first-choice, came in last place during the first round and was eliminated. This voter’s vote would then be added to the vote total of Candidate C, who they selected as their second choice.

After all the votes are reallocated to candidates still in the race, the totals are retallied. Then the process repeats. The candidate with the least amount of votes in the second round is eliminated, and all votes given to that candidate are reallocated to whoever voters ranked as their third-choice. Using the image again as an example, if Candidate C, the voter’s second choice was eliminated, their vote would then be added to the total of Candidate B.

This process repeats with candidates being continually eliminated until there are only two candidates left. When there are two candidates left, the candidate with the most votes wins. Although this process may be more complex than selecting one candidate, it is helpful in electing a mayor that a majority of the City wants, especially in a race with so many candidates.

Why Would I Choose to Rank Candidates?

Ranked choice voting is beneficial because it has the potential to stretch your vote further, ensuring you have the option and freedom to express preferences across the entire candidate pool. If you choose to not rank multiple candidates, nothing happens if your candidate is eliminated.

Furthermore, Ranked Choice provides more choice & individual freedom for voters overall. In elections without Ranked Choice, voters may feel pressured to vote for a more "realistic candidate" because their favorite candidate is less likely to win. With Ranked Choice, voters know if their first choice doesn’t win, their vote counts for their next choice. This frees voters from worrying about which candidates are more or less likely to win & allows them to rank honestly.

Finally, Ranked Choice is the voting system which best promotes majority support. Because candidates are eliminated one-by-one in RCV, it is easier to determine which of the top candidates has real majority support.

Immigration Issues at Stake in the NYC Primaries

Noncitizen Voting Rights

Currently, people who are not citizens cannot vote in municipal elections. However, a new bill called Intro 1867 before the City Council seeks to allow lawful city residents to vote for candidates running for city offices. This bill could enfranchise about one million NYC residents, the majority being part of the immigrant community. Allowing noncitizens to engage in the process of voting is important to increasing civic engagement, and allowing immigrants to have a voice in the city they call home and where they play an essential role

Of the current mayoral candidates, Shaun Donovan, Dianne Morales, Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer, and Andrew Yang are in favor of the bill. Kathryn Garcia is against the bill. Eric Adams has said he would consider it, but has not come out strongly either way.

NYPD Monitoring and ICE

ICE currently uses apps, GPS-tracking, & facial recognition software to monitor about 100,000 immigrants in digital surveillance programs. This program, as well as other similar monitoring programs run by ICE and the NYPD, greatly contribute to the ongoing criminalization of immigrants by law enforcement, and have been heavily criticized by human rights groups. It is important to take note of how candidates stand on these kinds of programs, and what kinds of protections they plan to offer for immigrants and noncitizens.

New York Civil Liberties Union advocates are asking that the next mayor at least maintain existing rules that protect immigrants, such as Local Law 228, which prohibits city agents from cooperating with ICE or federal immigration agents.

Of the current mayoral candidates, Shaun Donovan, Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang all speak explicitly in their platforms about protecting New York immigrants from ICE. Andrew Yang, Dianne Morales, and Kathryn Garcia discuss the idea of New York as a “sanctuary city” and safe space for immigrants.

Finally, Maya Wiley, Andrew Yang, and Dianne Morales have expressed interest in expanding the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a NYC run program which provides free legal representation to people who are detained and/or in immigration/deportation proceedings.


Half of New York City’s working-class noncitizens lost employment during COVID-19, leaving them unable to pay rent, and fearful of going to housing court to fight evictions because of their citizenship status. The city has also seen an uptick in homeless encampments, including in neighborhoods with high numbers of foreign-born residents, which advocates for immigrants have said continue to indicate growing homelessness among working-class immigrants since the pandemic.

Few mayoral candidates have spoken on the housing crisis. However, Dianne Morales, Shaun Donovan, and Maya Wiley have expressed plans to build more permanent affordable housing and create additional resources for immigrant communities facing housing insecurity.


1.8 million immigrants worked in industries deemed “essential businesses” during the NY business shutdown, and one in five noncitizen residents worked as frontline essential workers. And yet, many immigrant patients have refused public health care services over fears it could affect their immigration status.

Again, few candidates detail how their health care plans do or do not include undocumented people. However, Shaun Donovan, Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley support universal public healthcare in NYC for noncitizens, and Kathryn Garcia has proposed reserving 25% of vaccine appointments for direct referrals from community health-care providers.

Why Vote?

By voting in the 2021 NYC Primary election, you make your voice and your story heard about issues affecting immigration, healthcare, housing, and much more. Your vote is a way to make an impactful difference in the city and your own community - so get out and vote!

Remember, Early Voting is from June 12th to June 20th, and Election Day is June 22nd. Find your poll site and check its hours.


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