By Natalia Sucre, Instruction & Digital Services Librarian 

Local Politics Part 1: A View from Harlem


The pandemic restricted our movements and imposed social isolation, but it also brought many New Yorkers close to their immediate neighborhood community in new ways. The resulting bonds, the June 2020 protests, the problems created and highlighted by the COVID crisis –all give the upcoming NYC elections a sense of urgency. Local politics has a new flavor this election season. For that reason, we at MCNY Library are focusing all our library roundtables this summer on NYC politics at the local level.  

For our first talk, William Allen, MCNY MPA Professor and City Council candidate for District 9 in Harlem, provided an overview of the new ranked choice voting system and a firsthand account of what it means for politicians.

How Does Ranked Choice Voting Work?

While initially education on ranked choice voting lagged, Prof. Allen pointed us to NYC Votes’ excellent interactive teaching tools on the topic.  

Image credit:, Local News, 2019; modified by Natalia Sucre, 2021

Designed to expand the power of our vote, ranked choice voting could instead disenfranchise voters if we don’t understand well how the ballot functions. For example, here are two common mistakes that could invalidate your ballot: 

    • DO NOT vote for any candidate more than once
    • DO NOT give the same ranking to more than one candidate

Try filling out your own practice ballot here.

Given the complexity of the new ballot, voters may be tempted to rank only their first choice as in an election of old. This will not invalidate your ballot, but not selecting even just a second choice means losing out on a new power to shape the elections even if your first choice loses. To understand this better, run through this interactive tutorial on how the counting works.

What Will Ranked Choice Voting Mean for New Yorkers?

Prof. Allen gave us a firsthand account of how ranked choice voting changes the political equation. He explained that his district election has been collegial this year in a way that establishes bonds for productive future collaborations. Just as important, he discussed how the new voting system pushes candidates to reach out to a broader voter base. 

His inspiring account of his platform and his work to build community made us all eager to try out the new ballots. Finally, Prof. Allen’s inside view of local politics in Harlem has us looking forward to extending this conversation to Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. We hope you can join us for those upcoming talks!