On June 16, 2021, at 5:00 p.m, Democracy NYC, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the New York City Civic Engagement Commission, hosted a “Countdown to Vote” at Union Square.
This is a free community event open to the public to introduce the new election system, Ranked Choice Voting, and to encourage New Yorkers to actively vote.
Laura Wood, senior advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Democracy NYC, said, “It’s been a really long hard road for New York City. Last year, something like this felt unimaginable. … It’s wonderful to be able to get back out on the streets, interacting with people, and celebrating where we are as a city, the path to recovery.”
“The elections are a huge part of that,” she continued. “The people we elect in June and in November will lead New York City in the next steps of the recovery.”
Phil Thompson, the city’s deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives, said, “For the past 15 months, the whole city has been shut down because of the COVID pandemic. Over a million people lost their jobs, and a lot of people got sick, many people died. And now the city is coming back to life.”
He stressed the importance of the election and its role in giving New Yorkers more opportunities as the city gets back on its feet. “This election will determine how fast that recovery happens,” as well as whether hard-hit communities “are able to come back strong.”
The event featured performances by local artists as well as The People’s Bus — a retired NYC Department of Correction vehicle that has been transformed into a community-led, intergenerational mobile civic engagement center.
Colombian-born artist Yazmany Arboleda, who is the artist-in-residence New York City Civic Engagement Commission and designer of the bus, said that he wants to “meet people where they are” during the pandemic and use artwork to “bring beauty and joy into people’s lives and make life better.” He said he believes the event is important because it’s about “showing up and trying new ways of engaging the community and transforming the way we think” in order “to support each other.”
Phil Thompson applauded the performances for creating a celebratory atmosphere around the elections and getting more people to participate.
The Civic Engagement Commission is a new agency formed in recent years, as introduced by its chair and executive director, Dr. Sarah Sayeed. “We are working to promote civic engagement and strengthen democracy in New York City. … One of the things we’re doing is promoting education about the elections in New York City right now.”
The “People’s Bus” was covered in ads and parked in Union Square, giving New Yorkers of all ages and across all five boroughs a chance to learn about the vote and provide feedback on the future of the bus.
“This is a five-day borough tour of ranked-choice voting education, it’s the first time we’re bringing this bus. What we’re doing is letting people know how to vote ranked-choice, and also practicing on a ballot form where they tell us about what kind of programming they would like to see on the People’s Bus,” Sayeed said.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) will be used for the June 2021 Primary Election and Special Elections for the following NYC municipal offices: Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council Elections.
RCV allows voters to vote for up to five candidates. In other words, voters will rank up to five candidates on the ballot according to their preference, from 1 to 5 (1 being the first choice with the highest priority and 5 being the fifth choice with the lowest priority), instead of choosing only one.
Ms. Wong, who volunteers at the Countdown to the Polls, said, “I want to encourage more people to come out and vote, especially the Chinese, to elect someone who has the ability to bring New York back from the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese newcomers should take this opportunity to voice their concerns.”
This year will see the largest general election in New York City in 30 years, including races for the mayor of New York and 35 city council members whose terms have expired. The most high-profile positions include city comptroller, public advocate, five borough presidents, and Manhattan district attorney.
Democracy NYC, the organizer of the Countdown to the Polls, is a nonpartisan program of the Mayor’s Initiative focused on increasing voter participation in New York City.
The 2021 primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 22.