The next major elections in New York City aren’t until 2025, but voting reform advocates are looking to get started as soon as possible on education efforts to assist anyone who needs help navigating the city’s elections – especially with still new ranked-choice voting and noncitizen voting expected to soon introduce an entirely new pool of voters. That’s why the Rank the Vote NYC coalition is launching a campaign to get recurring funding in the city budget, starting this year, to start a civic education program focused on voting.
The 2021 election cycle in New York City marked the first time that people used ranked-choice voting after its 2019 adoption. Though exit polling indicated that most voters found the new system easy to understand, many political onlookers had expressed concerns leading up to the June primary, when most contests in New York City are determined. “Last year, there was a lot of discussion and, frankly, criticisms that the city had not started educating voters regarding rank choice voting early in the year,” Susan Lerner, board chair of the Rank the Vote coalition, told City & State.
So Rank the Vote, based on comments it got from lawmakers and other stakeholders, began to develop a citywide voter education and engagement program. The coalition of community organizations and good government groups is asking the City Council for about $3 million or $4 million a year to fund the program, with the money going to local groups who would do the outreach and education as the city oversees the allocations. The Board of Elections and the Campaign Finance Board had run ads and education last year on behalf of the city, but nonprofits and local organizations often did much of the work on the ground.
With that in mind, Rank the Vote is expanding beyond just ranked-choice voting, Lerner said, and will begin to engage voters on all aspects of the electoral process to promote civic participation. The timing comes with the new noncitizen voting law in the city, making hundreds of thousands of new city residents eligible to vote. It’s in part why the coalition has chosen to expand its board to include former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bill Chong, former commissioner of the city Department of Youth and Community Development. “If we have the actual time and we're able to leverage the same amount of resources or more (as last year), we can really do a lot of great work in empowering communities that have been historically left out of these conversations,” Mark-Viverito told City & State.
Mark-Viverito had been a proponent for noncitizen voting when she led the City Council and expressed excitement at the prospect of bringing so many new voters into the fold, as well as continuing education around ranked-choice voting in the communities it could benefit the most. “Having a budget line or having dedicated resources to do that in a consistent way, would speak very much and very strongly to the commitment of the city, to our democratic values,” Mark-Viverito said. She said she hoped that both the City Council and Mayor Eric Adams would agree to such a commitment.
Although the next municipal elections are still in the distant future in the quick-paced world of politics, Lerner emphasized the need to begin the discussions as soon as possible so that the city could set up a pilot program that could be fully realized by the end of the year. “If we don't start now, it won't happen in a timely manner,” Lerner said. “And we'll be facing a situation where people feel that the education effort was rushed and too limited.”