Gotham Gazette Thu, 02 Jul 2020 17:00:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) What New York City Voters Need to Know About the June Primary Elections voting in new york during coronavirus

What voters need to know to vote in June (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The images of Wisconsin voters standing in line last month starkly illustrated how COVID-19 has triggered a health emergency for our democracy. Here in New York, elections have been postponed or canceled in response to the pandemic. We are taking the first steps towards voting in a new way, via mail-in absentee ballots. With all of these rapid changes, it is no wonder voters are confused about what steps they can take to cast a vote safely and help maintain the health of our democratic system.

In response to these unprecedented circumstances, the Mayor’s DemocracyNYC Initiative and the NYC Votes/Campaign Finance Board have convened a consortium of community-based organizations, good government groups, and advocates to get the word out about voting safely to the hardest-hit communities. Our goal is to make sure voters in these underrepresented communities have the information they need to make use of absentee voting as a safe and effective alternative.

Here is the critical guidance New Yorkers need to safely exercise their right to vote -- and to keep our democracy healthy -- on June 23.

First, all eligible voters may cast a ballot by mail. To do so, city voters must request an absentee ballot by June 16. The Board of Elections will mail voters an absentee ballot application this month with a postage-paid return envelope. But there is no reason to wait. We encourage as many voters as possible to request an application online. Requests can be made online at a new website created by the city’s Board of Elections: The application is now available in Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, and Korean.

Absentee ballots will not be mailed out to all voters; only voters who request an absentee ballot will receive one. Thanks to an executive order from Governor Cuomo, anyone who wants to vote absentee due to the coronavirus pandemic should indicate “temporary illness” as the reason for requesting a ballot.

Voting by mail is a safe and effective way to exercise the right to vote during this public health crisis. Governor Cuomo’s executive order allowing all voters to cast a mail-in ballot means New Yorkers will not face the awful choice between voting and protecting their own health that voters in Wisconsin were forced to make.

As New York contemplates re-opening, in-person voting will be available for the voters who need it. The best way to vote in-person is during the early voting period, June 13-21, when fewer people will be at the poll sites. For the health and safety of everyone, especially poll workers, those who can should vote by mail-in ballot.

The second critical point is that primary elections are happening, whether the Democratic presidential primary is held or not (that matter is currently being decided by the courts). Important primary races for Congress, State Legislature, and municipal offices will be decided on June 23. The vast majority of neighborhoods across the city will have at least one primary contest on that absentee ballot.

To vote in most primary elections, voters must be enrolled in the party holding the primary under rules set by the parties. The state’s look-up tool ( is the best way to check whether your voter registration and party affiliation status makes you eligible to vote in a primary.

While the path is clear to vote safely by mail in June, we are concerned that New Yorkers will not have that option in November. Governor Cuomo’s order making the risk of contracting coronavirus a valid excuse for voting absentee will expire after the primary election. These changes should be considered for future elections to allow safe and secure voting in November.

Voters should not have to choose between health and enjoying the privileges of citizenship. In time of crisis, it is critical New Yorkers participate in choosing who will lead our city in the coming months and years of rebuilding. We urge all eligible voters to request a mail-in ballot and be a part of making those critical choices on June 23.

The undersigned civic leaders are launching a nonpartisan outreach campaign this week to guide New York voters through the 2020 elections. New Yorkers can request an absentee ballot for the June primaries online at To request a ballot by phone, or for help with voting questions, call the Board of Elections hotline 866-VOTE-NYC (1-866-868-3692).




Wayne Ho

President & CEO

Chinese-American Planning Council (CEC)

Betsy Gotbaum

Executive Director

Citizens Union

Prof. Ester Fuchs


Columbia University, WhosOntheBallot

Edward Cuesta

Executive Director

Dominicanos USA

Eliana Santos


Dominicanos USA

Laura Ladd Bierman 

Executive Director

League of Women Voters of NYS

Karen Cummings

Community & Govt Affairs Liaison


Laura Wood

Senior Advisor & General Counsel

Mayor's DemocracyNYC Initiative

Bitta Mostofi


Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs

John Park

Executive Director

MinKwon Center for Community Action

Amy Loprest

Executive Director

NYC Campaign Finance Board

Dr. Sarah Sayeed

Chair & Executive Director

NYC Civic Engagement Commission

Megan Ahearn

Program Director


David Estrada

Executive Director

Sunset Park Business Improvement District

Jarret Berg



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What New York City Voters Need to Know About the June Primary Elections Mon, 18 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Pre-Registering 16- and 17-Year-Olds to Vote the Focus of Second Annual City ‘Civics Week’ voter reg day

The city focused on student voter registration (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) mounted, but before Mayor Bill de Blasio made the monumental decision to close the city’s schools for at least five weeks, New York City government held its second annual Civics Week to encourage civic participation and voter registration among students.

After a new law passed last year to allow it, the city focused this year’s Civics Week on pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, beginning with such a voter registration drive for high school students at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City, Queens, on Monday March 2.

While the city has made efforts for Student Voter Registration Day in the past and launched Civics Week to help correct some troubling trends both here and nationally, the new state law allowing voter pre-registration of those who will soon be voting age added a new element to the larger project.

Civics Week was introduced by de Blasio as a collaboration among his new DemocracyNYC initiative, the mayor’s Public Engagement Unit, and the Department of Education, according to Lindsay Acker, Field Director for DemocracyNYC and the Public Engagement Unit. The week is “dedicated to giving our students the tools they need to be active, productive participants not just in our economy, but in our democracy”, according to the DemocracyNYC website.

In a press release from May 2019, the City announced that during last Civics Week, 18,233 students were registered to vote. According to a March announcement from the mayor’s office launching this year’s Civics Week, “in just the past two years, DemocracyNYC, the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit and the Department of Education registered nearly 30,000 students.”

This year’s Civics Week included a mass effort to register potential student-voters in high schools and colleges across the city. High schools are now a larger focus of the effort given the pre-registration law passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year. For those eligible to vote this year, their registration comes just in time to participate in the 2020 presidential election, not to mention other federal and state-level elections coming up in April and June primaries and the November general election. There’s also an election for Queens Borough President, where a special election was just cancelled, but a primary is set for June, with the general in November to select a replacement for the final year of what was now-District Attorney Melinda Katz’s term.

“Ahead of such a busy election year, we are proud to be empowering thousands of youth that will be 18 on Election Day. We are also excited to take the pre-registration law that went into effect this year and execute it on the ground,” said Acker.

“Our students are the future leaders of our City, and what we do now to empower them to vote will strengthen our democracy for years to come,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I encourage all students to register and show up at the polls on Election Day because their voice matters.”

According to the Civics Week announcement from the city, events throughout the week included “youth voter registration drives, participatory budgeting for their schools, public speaking competitions, and town halls on issues that matter to them and their communities.”

The New York City Department of Education also provided schools with curriculum resources for students grades K-12 to help them learn about civics and how to participate in a democracy.

The curriculum seeks to celebrate youth voice, encourage civic empowerment, and highlight the importance of registering to vote, according to the DOE. The DOE did not provide more detailed information on the curriculum when asked by Gotham Gazette.

“Understanding the importance of registering to vote starts so much earlier than 16, 17, 18,” said Brooke Wallace, New York program director at Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that runs “action civics” programming in schools in six states including New York. “It starts in middle school and even earlier to understand the importance and to understand all the powers of their voice and input at a young age, and how they can make a difference in their community civically.”

The curriculum seeks to put democracy into different contexts, allowing for students with different experiences to understand how they can use their voice in their own communities.

“At the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, we prioritize community empowerment because we know how critical education about your rights and exercising your voice through civic participation is to realizing a more inclusive, equitable, and just world for all of us,” said Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, in a statement. “Through this Civics Week initiative, we are helping to prepare young New Yorkers from diverse families to fully participate in decisions that will impact their lives and their communities.”

According to the state bill that made 16- and 17-year-old pre-registration law, the lead sponsors of which were State Senator David Carlucci and Assemblymember Charles Lavine, “The age 16 is a sensible time for the DMV and high schools to collect information for voter pre-registration, as it is the time when a significant amount of people have their first interaction with the DMV, and it is an age where school is still compulsory in New York. Pre-registration allows this information to be collected at a convenient time for the individual rather than making them return to the boards of elections or a state agency when they reach eligible voting age.”

Wallace of Generation Citizen had the opportunity to sit in on a couple of the classroom sessions where teachers were implementing the civics curriculum provided by the city and was hopeful about what she saw.

“I saw that teachers were able to really customize and tailor the curriculum for their classroom, which I thought was really powerful and impactful. I thought that it was really well done the way that the DOE and DemocracyNYC provided a lesson as a guide for teachers, but then teachers were able to say, ‘Oh, I know my students are interested in X, Y, and Z,’ or ‘I need to do more framing and really make the lesson impactful and exciting,’” Wallace said.

According to Aker, the voter registration drive for Civics Week and representatives from DemocracyNYC and the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit were in over 1,000 classrooms across all five boroughs throughout the week.

Officials are still going through forms that were submitted during voter registration to do quality control, so final numbers on students registered are not available yet, according to Luis Feliz Leon, communications director for DemocracyNYC.

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Pre-Registering 16- and 17-Year-Olds to Vote the Focus of Second Annual City ‘Civics Week’ Mon, 16 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Launches Pilot Voter Guide for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing New Yorkers votes hard of hearing guide

the CFB models its new voter guide (photo: Gotham Gazette)

New York City is home to more than 200,000 residents who are deaf and hard of hearing, and they almost never vote. It’s not for a lack of will, but rather because of inadequate access to information on voter registration and candidates, according to city officials. To address that gap, the city is launching its first-ever voter guide in American Sign Language, a long overdue measure to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing voters are able to participate in the city’s democratic process.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board, which releases voter guides for each election with information on the candidates and questions on the ballot, created the guide in collaboration with The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), the city’s DemocracyNYC office, and advocates from the deaf community. It will be released on Thursday.

“We were trying to figure out a way to provide this information to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in their native language,” said MOPD’s Tony Wooden Jr., at a Wednesday presentation provided to Gotham Gazette at the agency’s office in downtown Manhattan. Wooden Jr. is project supervisor of ASL Direct, a video-calling assistance line that MOPD runs for deaf and hard-of-hearing New Yorkers.

The ASL voter guide complements the Campaign Finance Board’s current work by including an ASL interpreter in videos where candidates running for local office introduce themselves to voters. Keeping in mind the diversity in the deaf and hard-of-hearing population, the video guide does not include captions and employs a deaf interpreter who can reach a broader audience. “A lot of times, when you’re watching something on TV, you can usually turn on closed captions and read the words. But in the deaf community, you have to keep in mind that English is not the first language, American Sign Language is,” said Wooden Jr.

Dennis Martinez, a deaf services advocate at Harlem Independent Living Center, worked with the city on the voter guide project. “This is the first time we've ever had access to candidate information for the deaf community,” Martinez, who is deaf, said through an interpreter. “And up until this point, there's been no efforts made by other spaces as well, that I know of. So this has been wonderful in terms of advocating for deaf rights in our city as well as getting information out to people who are voters.”

“The way she's signing as a deaf interpreter is appropriate for deaf people of all different backgrounds and levels of skill and language skill level,” Martinez said watching the voter guide interpreter. “Because she's expanding the concepts more than just interpreting the words.”

The guide is the latest effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to expand access to voting and voter turnout through the recently-launched DemocracyNYC initiative. One of its goals has been to provide more poll-site services to people with disabilities. Nisha Agarwal, senior advisor to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, which runs the initiative, said they are working on helping people with disabilities reach the polls and on providing ballot marker devices. They’ll push the new guide out through advocacy groups and all community events being hosted by the CFB, MOPD, and DemocracyNYC. “We will put it in anything that makes sense,” Agarwal said.

Officials stressed this year’s guide is a pilot. “We want to work on improving this,” said Agarwal, who was at Wednesday’s presentation along with Matt Sollars, CFB’s director of public relations.

On that front, Agarwal said this year’s passage of early voting by the state Legislature was welcome news. Sollars said it would help reduce lines at polling site on Election Day, particularly during next year’s presidential election, and will particularly help facilitate voting by the deaf community. “Now you have a lot more time to get to the polls when it's convenient for you, which I would imagine is really important to this community,” Sollars said. “It's going to be a game changer on access for everybody, but particularly for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.”

With the launch of the ASL voter guide on Thursday, the city is also hoping to drive deaf voters to register before the October 11 deadline for the general election, for which early voting will begin on October 26. Election Day this year is Tuesday, November 5. Martinez said HILC is looking to set up a voting workshop, to encourage registration as well as instruct deaf voters on absentee voting (the deadline for postmarking absentee ballots for the general election is October 29). 

In the next citywide election, in 2021, the CFB will have its work cut out for it and Sollars said the pilot ASL guide will teach them valuable lessons. “We have 500 candidates that we’re expecting to register with us for the 2021 elections,” he said. “So it will be a big task to produce the interpretations...This was great, we learned a lot, and we're going to be able to take those lessons into production in 2021.”

[Read: Dates, Deadlines, Elections & Ballot Questions: Everything You Need to Know for Fall 2019 in New York City]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

City Launches Pilot Voter Guide for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing New Yorkers Wed, 02 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Can the De Blasio Administration Really Register 1.5 Million More Voters? Mayor de Blasio voting

Mayor de Blasio voting (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a DemocracyNYC plan. One big goal: “to register 1.5 million New Yorkers to vote over the next four years.”
To make this work the mayor will create a new city leadership post: Chief Democracy Officer. How hard will it be for this new chief to meet the mayor’s goal?

Let’s do some rough math, based upon recent enrollment, census, and vital statistics data:

According to estimates in the most recent American Community Survey, there were 5,402,352 citizens of voting age in New York City in 2016 (plus or minus 22,325).

According to the state Board of Elections, in November of 2017 there were 5,053,842 registered voters in the city. That’s 93.5% of the eligible citizens.

Let’s make two initial assumptions to maximize the number of potential additional registrants among those of voting age now to make the CDO’s job more possible. First we’ll put aside reasons for disqualification other than age that would further reduce the number of those eligible but not registered (in prison or on parole for a felony, judged mentally incompetent by a court, voting elsewhere). Second, we’ll add that 22,325 to the estimate – that is, make the high side assumption of the number of age- eligible citizens while remaining within the statistical range of error.

That results in 370,835 citizens who are of voting age now and not registered.

Additionally, there are about 372,000 teenagers in New York City who will reach the age of 18 in the next four years. Of all people in the city over the age of 18, about four in five (80.5%) are citizens. The percentage of citizens among younger people, many born here of immigrant parents, is likely higher. They are not all citizens, but again let’s count more rather than fewer as likely to be eligible to register to vote: 9 in 10 of them. That would be 334,800.

That brings the available target total of potential new registrants to 705,635.

People from elsewhere in the country or living abroad (but not new immigrants) will move into and out of the city during the mayor’s second term. For now let’s just consider those moving in. Some will be children. Some won’t be citizens. A high side assumption from past experience of the number who can be registered: 200,000.

That brings us to 905,635 potential registrants.

Uh oh. We are 594,365 short.

Of course there are all those people who move within the city. They change their addresses. They need to re-register. Maybe the mayor meant to include them; he did not say the Chief Democracy Officer would have to find “new” registrants. So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Again we have to watch out for kids, non-citizens, and those already included in our count as not registered. Estimating from federal statistics on people moving annually within and between counties for 2011-2015, it looks like 483,000 is a reasonable number.

Still not there: 1,388,022 (OK, though, we’re getting within shouting distance). To meet the mayor’s goal the Chief Democracy Officer must find about 112,000 more people eligible to register in the next four years, and register them all. Where?

But wait a minute, that’s just the additions. How about the subtractions?

The Empire Center and others have noted that New York City’s population continues to grow every year because immigrants from abroad outnumber the many already living here who are leaving. Less noticed, most of those leaving are voters or vote-eligible, while those who are arriving are non-citizens. A conservative estimate is that 189,000 actual or potential registrants will move out of the city over the next four years.

Finally, there’s mortality. About 212,000 New Yorkers will die during Mayor de Blasio’s second term, more than 95% of whom are voting age. Of course, some - probably a smaller portion than for the city population as a whole - will be non-citizens. A reasonable, conservative estimate is that death will reduce New York City’s potential electorate by 171,000.

One-hundred-eighty-nine thousand plus 171,000 equals 360,000. Departure and mortality will reduce the city’s potential electorate in the next four years by about 6.5%.

-Registering 1.5 million people to vote in New York City over the next four years is an impossible dream.

-Registering all of the age-eligible citizens now in the city won’t significantly expand the current electorate; it will keep it about the same size.

-The largest pool of potential registrants during Mayor de Blasio’s second term is comprised of people living in the city who are already registered, but changed their addresses.

-It would be truly extraordinary if the city’s voting roles grew by half-a-million registrants in the next four years.

The bottom line: If I were asked to be the new Chief Democracy Officer, the first thing I’d do is some serious counting. Then I’d call the mayor, to renegotiate the voter registration goal.

Gerald Benjamin is Director of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.

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Can the De Blasio Administration Really Register 1.5 Million More Voters? Tue, 06 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000