Racial Equity ∙ Economy
Expanding Democracy in New York City
All over the country, we are seeing the threat to the franchise, explicitly targeting a new, increasingly diverse electorate. Fortunately, many significant policy decisions often come at the local level, and New York City has an opportunity to be at the forefront of democracy reform. No matter what’s happening in Washington, New York City must not only protect - but expand - democracy in the five boroughs.
As a presidential candidate, Andrew campaigned for ranked choice voting, and celebrated its passage in New York City. Andrew also fought successfully against the New York Board of Elections to keep the June 2020 primary on the calendar. As a result, 844k New York City Democrats were able to express their preference - greater than the 692k New York City Democrats who turned out for the last competitive mayoral primary in 2013. Strengthening our democracy is something we do one election at a time and Andrew has been fighting for the franchise.
The moral and political imperative is clear: we need a government that rules with true majority support, citizens who participate actively in their communities and their government must facilitate and better fund democratic processes. We must ensure that New Yorkers stay informed, that they turn out to vote, and that their votes are counted so we can all maintain faith in democratic governance in this city.
Furthermore, all New Yorkers - including young people and immigrants - will power our City’s COVID recovery. The status quo has failed to fix the biggest problems facing younger, more diverse generations. To truly change the City, the rising generation must bring their numerical strength to the ballot box, get politically engaged like never before, and vote again and again in local elections.
Expand the Franchise
Expanding the franchise has historically been the cornerstone of democratic reforms—and always met with skepticism and sometimes violent opposition. Expanding the voting age to 16 and to noncitizen New Yorkers in municipal elections makes good sense—and criticisms of these proposals don’t hold up. New York City can make these democratic reforms—and we ought to be at the forefront of these essential, and more inclusive, measures.
Lower the Voting Age to 16 at the State and Federal Level and Expanding Municipal Voting to Young People
The needs and concerns of young people must be central to this City’s agenda. We must shape our policies with an eye to their stake in the future —and extending the youth vote is a principled mechanism to hold us accountable to young people’s needs and to incentivize their long-term civic engagement.
Younger people are skeptical of democratic institutions. They have come of age in a period of rampant polarization and leaders who have systematically abused democratic institutions and failed their future with little concern for gun violence, climate change, or widespread youth poverty and homelessness. Turning out to vote can be a logistical challenge, especially for 18-21 year-olds who may be navigating the demands of school, multiple jobs, unstable housing environments, or have never received informed guidance on how, when, and where –and ultimately, why—they can and should vote. It’s no surprise that voter turnout is low among young voters. We can change that.
When young people are enfranchised, they show up. In Takoma Park, MD – the first city in America to lower the voting age for local elections to 16 – and in Hyattsville, MD, 16- and 17-year-olds are voting at rates that nearly quadruple those of older voters. Internationally, at least 20 countries allow citizens under the age of 18 to vote.
New York State has already allowed for pre-registration for 16 year olds to facilitate automatic voter registration at age 18. We must go one step further by expanding the vote to 16 year-olds in the city, we can ingrain and facilitate a lifelong voting record. Voting registration drives at our high schools can systematically reach a new generation of voters across the city, who can be informed in school by teachers and other trusted figures on how to register to vote, the logistics of voting, and ultimately, the real stakes for casting a vote in all elections. Evidence systematically shows that overcoming these hurdles is key in guaranteeing a more engaged electorate, and one that turns out. Lowering the voting age makes good sense for younger New Yorkers and the health of New York as a whole.
Expanding Voting Rights to Non-Citizens
Non-citizens, including those on temporary residency status, green card holders, asylum seekers, and DACA recipients, are central to New York’s economy and above all, its identity. According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the city is home to 3.1 million immigrants, approximately 56% are naturalized U.S. citizens and an estimated 622,000 immigrant New Yorkers, who are lawful permanent residents (green card holders), are potentially able to naturalize. Green card holders cannot lawfully vote in NYC elections. New York is also home to approximately 504,000 undocumented immigrants as of 2018. These New Yorkers contribute millions of dollars in jobs, taxes and revenue and are deeply affected by leadership decisions by their local elected officials. We must rethink who we define as members of this City—and we have to make good on our claim to be an inclusive and diverse city of immigrants. We can do so, in part, by extending the franchise to non-citizens. Non-citizens need to have a say in local matters—on the schools their children attend, the regulations that affect their livelihood, and the safety of their streets and homes.
Non-citizen voters must be granted the right to vote in municipal elections. The proposal brought by the City Council has been languishing for years, a Yang administration will act decisively on creating a permanent amendment to the City’s charter to guarantee these essential voices in New York are heard.
New York City should also be an exemplar in guaranteeing legal and logistical protections when noncitizen voters turn up to their polling place. Voter registration drives, along with institutions like The People’s Bank, can serve as another pipeline to receive informed services that allow fuller integration into the city’s resources and ultimately its social fabric. Our Board of Elections should be at the forefront of providing clear guidance to all potential voters on voting procedures and eligibility and our polls should be staffed with multilingual poll workers.
A Yang administration would wholeheartedly support the passage and full implementation of Intro 1867-2020, the “Our City, Our Vote” bill which would allow green card holders and those authorized to work in the United States can vote in elections for city-level offices as long as they have been a resident of New York City for at least 30 days and are otherwise qualified to register and vote under New York State election law.
Expand Engagement for People Who are Detained at Rikers
The New York City Charter requires the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) to assist people in City jails to exercise their right to vote, and they have generally been limited to voting by absentee ballot. As outlined by the Legal Aid Society and over 40 other organizations in a letter to the De Blasio Administration, DOC has not laid out a plan for detainees to exercise their right to vote, and eligible voters admitted into DOC custody after June 15th and held through June 22nd won't be able to vote, if they have not otherwise cast a ballot.
A Yang administration will take aggressive action to ensure that DOC abides by its Charter mandate to ensure all eligible detainees at City jails are able to vote every single year, including coordinating in-person voting.
Bolster Faith in the Democratic Process
Faith in the integrity of elections is under assault. New York is not immune from the threats and complications posed by voting during the pandemic, the new imperatives for early and mail-in voting, or the specter of misconduct. But we have failed to rise to the occasion in meeting these challenges—from issues with absentee ballots, the weeks-long delay in tallying the 2019 Congressional primary results, broken ballot scanners, the purging of hundreds of thousands of voters from voting rolls in 2016, to perennially long lines at some polling places.
The New York City Board of Elections needs to be reformed so voters are guaranteed short lines at their polling place, timely results, and that each vote is counted without fail. We need to commit to funding and reforming failures in our voting procedures that erode faith in government and in the electoral process.
Eliminating Corruption and Fully Funding the Board of Elections
New York City needs to take charge in initiating reforms of the Board of Elections, and offering the resources to make good on those reforms. A Yang administration will assure that the BOE is equipped and accountable for preparing for the demands of shifting voting processes, and work proactively with City Council and State lawmakers to enact permanent reforms to the BOE’s operations.
With mail-in voting, early voting and ranked choice voting on the rise, a Yang administration will guarantee resources for a system of tracking ballots and for curing defects quickly. We need to create opportunities for a new generation of poll workers, especially teenagers and college-aged New Yorkers, to get trained and excited about volunteering in the electoral process. Young New Yorkers can also become an integral part of the overall voting process—as trained corps of workers who can count ballots and assure timely results for New Yorkers.
Fully Fund the Civic Engagement Commission
In November 2018, New York City voters approved to establish the New York City Civic Engagement Commission, which is required to run a citywide participatory budgeting program with guidance from a participatory budgeting advisory committee; partner with community-based organizations and civic leaders, increase awareness of City services, and assist New York City agencies in developing civic engagement initiatives; develop a plan to consider the language access needs of limited English proficient New Yorkers with regards to the Commission's programs and services and provide language interpreters at poll sites by the 2020 general election, with advice from a language assistance advisory committee; and provide assistance to community boards.
Unfortunately, the CEC has yet to be fully funded nor adequately staffed. A Yang administration will ensure that the CEC has the resources necessary to live up to its charter mandate.
Combating Misinformation by Expanding Voter Education
Not only should young people be granted the right to vote in municipal elections, their documented acumen in identifying and combating misinformation ought to be deployed for the benefit of all New Yorkers. Misinformation is rightly a source of deep concern for everyone concerned with the health of democracy and the ability of everyday people to remain informed as citizens and to trust democratic institutions. We saw the violent upshot of misinformation campaigns in the Capitol Hill riots, and the potentially fatal effects in vaccine misinformation, school shootings, and other forms of conspiratorial thinking. Misinformation works to polarize us and distort the public’s trust in democratic institutions—and each other.
Require Civic Engagement Education for All Students
Young people have come of age in an era of rampant misinformation, and are equipped to navigate the information landscape. We need to systematically cultivate these skills with a curriculum that highlights online literacy—and to deploy their skills within the community. Economists, parents and high schoolers, and the city businesses’ have called for a revival of the summer jobs program for teenagers, which has been shuttered during the pandemic and weakened under the current administration with cuts. We need to deploy the specific skills of young people, in engaging their communities on misinformation. With training and resources, and partnerships with community institutions, these young people can be engaged to speak at town halls, in churches, community centers, and in one-on-one conversations throughout the city to discuss skills in identifying and avoiding misinformation. Innovative new projects developed in the city, which are aimed at large-scale efforts in reforming the online ecosystem, should be championed by the City and staffed by its most promising residents, who can take these findings back into the community.