Spring is coming, and with it, a new primary season for New York City local elections. If it feels like we’re always in election mode, that’s a consequence of the extent of choice for representatives at the local, state and federal levels. Might seem a bit tedious, perhaps even irksome, but it’s a relatively small price to pay to at least in theory have a concrete say in governance at all levels. That of course only holds true if you actively participate, and we here will always encourage you to get involved.
Municipal officials have more of a direct impact on your day-to-day life
Perhaps the best way to jostle yourself into action is to think about the elections not in the narrow way of electoral outcomes, but what those electoral outcomes are going to produce for you long-term in your daily life as a New Yorker. Do you like open streets? Does your local council member support them? Do you want additional construction in your district to offset the housing shortage and help bring prices down in the long term? Did you know that the council often gives so-called member deference to the representative of a specific district on the question of whether to approve a rezoning.
Whether several blocks around you are entirely rezoned or not may come down to the individual preferences of a representative that’s often selected by a margin of a mere few thousand votes in districts that include over 170,000 residents. Meaning, it’s often the case that municipal officials, despite a comparatively less flashy presence in the public consciousness, have more of a direct impact on your day-to-day than federal officials.
In a city with as overwhelmingly blue of a bent as New York, that means that most of the action is really happening in the primaries, which this year fall on June 27. That puts us just under four months away, and this year will have the particularity of being the first election after the census-driven rezoning process is complete, meaning that the districts have been redrawn and all 51 council districts are on the table; every single incumbent is up for reelection. Some districts look substantially similar to the old ones, some have been completely redrawn, so we encourage you to take a look at the new maps yourself and figure out how you fit into the new scheme.
Some claim newly drawn maps dilute power of Asian voters in Queens
Most of the initial drama around the council districts has died down, with the notable exception of the contention that Asian voters in Queens are having their power diluted, a claim which has now prompted a lawsuit by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) in New York Supreme Court (remember, these are somewhat puzzlingly the state’s lowest courts) against the city Districting Commission and the state and local boards of election. AALDEF contends that the largely Indo-Caribbean and South Asian populations of Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park are being split among three districts and are thus losing out on a chance for proportional representation. The lawsuit asked the court to halt petitioning until the issue had been resolved, an effort the judge ultimately rejected.
The petitioning process
Which brings us neatly to petitioning itself, which began this Tuesday. Voting is obviously the most popular and easiest way to participate in the electoral process, but it’s by no means the only one. Provided you meet the eligibility criteria, you can of course choose to run as a candidate, but you can also assist a candidate with the petitioning process, which is the precursor to actually getting on the ballot. Essentially, prior to a candidate being able to run in a certain party’s primary, they must have received a certain number of signatures from voters who are registered party members in the district in question. City Council candidates need at least 450 valid signatures to get on the primary ballots, on forms that look like this (State law says 900, but city ordinances supersede that requirement).
We stress that the signatures need to be valid because it is very common for candidates to challenge one another’s signatures, which can be eliminated for all sorts of reasons, including a voter living outside the district or having signed onto the petitions of more than one candidate for the same office. Petitions can be thrown out for honest mistakes, though lately there have been some rather concerning reports about the Brooklyn Democratic Party in particular engaging in outright fraud by forging voter signatures in petition challenges. All that to say, candidates generally require significantly more than just the 900 to guarantee a spot on the ballot.
You can engage with the petitioning process in two ways, first by simply signing petitions to get candidates on the ballot, and second by gathering signatures yourself. You’ll likely start seeing plenty of canvassers around your neighborhoods for the next several weeks, collecting signatures for various candidates. If you feel strongly about a particular candidate or want to start building connections in the city’s political world, you can collect signatures on someone’s behalf through March. The designating petitions must be filed between April 3 and 6 and the last day to authorize these designations is April 10.
Beside City Council, city district attorneys will be on the ballot, though not for every borough. There are elections for the DAs of Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx, all of whom are incumbents; petitioning for DA offices requires 4,000 signatures, since they serve at a county level. Despite acting in specific city boroughs, these are technically state-level positions, which means that the DA races are not run via ranked-choice, as the council races are. In case you’d forgotten, council primaries for the last cycle and going forward will feature this system, in which you can rank five candidates in order of preference. If your first-ranked candidate is eliminated because they came in last place in that round of voting, your vote transfers to your second-ranked candidate, and so on.
This story has been edited to reflect updated information about the petitioning process. Council candidates need at least 450 valid signatures to get on the primary ballots, not 900 as per state law.