Why should I care about this election?
This year, New York City voters will vote for a new Mayor, new Comptroller, at least 4 new Borough Presidents and at least 33 new City Council members. Because of the COVID health and economic crisis, this will be one of the most significant local elections of our lifetime. Given how safe incumbents tend to be, those officials could remain in place until 2030 – a decade of influence.
Not only does the Mayor and City Council approve a budget of around $90 billion annually, guide the education of over a million children, control what will be built and preserved, and shape the safety and well-being of our urban life, they will come into power riding a wave of demands for reform to increase racial justice and equality and seriously address, once and for all, police brutality. Newly elected officials will come into office needing to help the City to either continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic or recover from it – a process that will take decades.
The “class of 2021” will set the course of our city at a time of enormous change requiring creative, strong and decisive leadership. Who is chosen to lead the City through this time could not be more important.
Why are so many candidates running?
Most of the elected officials in the city government are term-limited under the city’s two-term rule, which was last approved in 2010. Since they cannot run for re-election, that position will be an “open seat”. Open seats usually attract lots of candidates, and with so many lawmakers forced to step aside, there will be as many as 41 open seats at all levels of city government. Some City Council races have attract more than a dozen candidates. For comparison, in the last local election in New York City there were only 10 open seats.
Ranked Choice Voting
The 2021 election will bring a new way to fill out ballots: Ranked Choice Voting. In this new system, voters can pick up to five candidates, instead of only one, and rank them in order of preference. If no candidate won a majority of the first-choice vote on the first round, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated and their votes are then redistributed – until a winner is declared. The city’s move to ranked-choice voting would encourage voters to think about all candidates in the race instead of picking only one. That gives more candidates a chance to be taken seriously.
The City has increased the amount of campaign funding candidates get to match small contributions. New York City’s Campaign Finance Board now matches each $1 a New York City resident gives, up to $250 depending on the office sought, with $8 in public funds. The program makes it easy for more people to run for office with the support of their community. In previous elections, the city provided a $6 to $1 match. That change means that more candidates can afford to run for office.
In the last few years, there has been a general wave of excitement about local politics. The voter turnout in New York City has increased significantly in the 2018 and in 2020, for both the primary and general elections. A new cohort of young candidates unseated over a dozen long-term incumbents. And the latest protests against police brutality shifted the public’s attention to the City’s budget and its systems of accountability. This renewed interest in local politics translates into more candidates and more voters.