What's on the ballot?
The Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission asked New Yorkers over several months how to make our democracy stronger. Based on this input, there are three ballot questions that offer us opportunities to say YES to making NYC work better for more New Yorkers.
Question 1: Campaign Finance
Reduces political corruption by helping candidates run competitive campaigns without large donations. Proposes lowering the maximum contribution a donor can make to a campaign and increases public matching funds for candidates.
Would this affect city’s budget for campaign spending?
Yes, slightly. And it’s worth it. Proposal #1 will lower the size of donations candidates can take and increase the power of small donations by matching them 8-to-1. That’s the way it should be. By adding slightly more to the city’s campaign finance budget, it will decrease the power of wealthy donors and political committees (PAC’s). Small donations will reach further and more people will be able to run for office.
Question 2: Civic Engagement
Proposes a Civic Engagement Commission to expand participatory budgeting citywide, improve language access at polls, and partner with community organizations and city officials to bring more diverse perspectives into important government decisions.
How would commissioners get on the civic engagement commission?
The Civic Engagement Commission will have 15 members, with 8 members appointed by the Mayor, 2 members by the City Council Speaker, and 1 member by each Borough President. These are all volunteers. The Commission will also have staff to support day-to-day work operations.
How would this impact other community engagement work the city already does?
NYC has a lot of different agencies and offices doing various kinds of outreach and civic engagement work. But it’s nearly impossible as a regular person to know where to go when you want to get involved in your community.
Having a Civic Engagement Commission tasked with supporting and coordinating all the government and nonprofit efforts across NYC will make it a lot easier for more New Yorkers to have a say in the decisions that affect their everyday lives.
Also, the proposed Civic Engagement Commission will support NYC democracy beyond and between elections. The Campaign Finance Board, their Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, and NYC Votes only focus on traditional elections. Participatory budgeting and the proposed Civic Engagement Commission, on the other hand, will be able to include young people and NYC residents regardless of citizenship status.
How would the Civic Engagement Commission interact with Community Boards?
If questions #2 and 3 are both voted in, the Civic Engagement Commission will be tasked with providing neutral technical support to Community Boards when they ask for help, beyond assistance already provided by City agencies.
The Civic Engagement Commission will also provide language assistance for Community Boards. Approximately 23% of all New Yorkers and approximately 49% of immigrant New Yorkers are limited English proficient. Language support will make it possible for all New Yorkers to participate in their Community Boards.
To be clear, the Commission will not have power to appoint anyone to Community Boards.
How would the Mayor interact with or influence a new Civic Engagement Commission?
The Mayor could have created an agency tasked with Civic Engagement. And like all city agencies, it would have had one commissioner appointed by the Mayor. Instead, 7 members of this Civic Engagement Commission will be appointed by Borough Presidents and City Council. This is far more accountable than any other city agency!
Citywide PB is an incredible opportunity to give residents more direct say in how our tax dollars are spent — and this proposal would be a significant expansion beyond the current Council process.
And language access at the polls is critical. Right now, the Board of Elections follows federal law, which only requires translation and interpretation in some languages and even then, only in some locations. Having a dedicated Commission tasked with permanently ensuring language access will make voting possible for lots of New Yorkers.
Doesn’t participatory budgeting (PB) already happen in City Council districts?
Yes and no. Nearly half of NYC residents have no direct voice over how their tax dollars are spent in their districts. Just over half of the City Council Members currently do PB. And, since it’s optional, PB is not guaranteed through City Council’s process.
Building citywide participatory budgeting into our Charter will ensure New Yorkers everywhere have more say in where our tax dollars are going.
The proposed Civic Engagement Commission will be able to look at bigger and new kinds of projects that cannot currently be funded through Council’s capital-restricted PB process. Participatory budgeting works. This proposal is an incredible opportunity for NYC to become a world leader in direct democracy.
How well does current language support at polls serve New Yorkers?
Sadly, it doesn’t!
NYC’s diversity is one of our great strengths, but immigrant voices are disproportionately underrepresented at the ballot box.
Approximately 23% of all New Yorkers and approximately 49% of immigrant New Yorkers are limited English proficient. Yet the NYC Board of Elections follows federal law, which only provides support in SOME languages, and even then, only in SOME poll locations.
While the State controls the Board of Elections, the City is allowed to contribute additional translation services on top of what the State mandates.
Putting this in the Charter as a mandated duty of the Civic Engagement Commission will ensure translation and interpretation is permanently and widely available, so language isn’t a barrier to voting.
Question 3: Community Boards
Harnesses the new energy flooding our political system by opening access to community boards, increasing transparency in the appointment process and empowering them to effectively advocate for their communities.
How does joining a community board work now? What problems would this proposal fix?
Right now, there’s no consistent process for applying to community boards across the city. Different Boroughs have different processes and annual deadlines. Unfortunately, some are more transparent and easy to navigate than others. They tend to involve fun steps like interacting with clunky websites, paper forms and tracking down a notary. (We all have friends who happen to be notaries, right?)
Proposal #3 requires Borough Presidents to have a straightforward public process for applications. They will be required to seek out diverse candidates. And they will have to produce a public report each year about the Community Board membership and recruitment in their borough.
Pretty basic, right?
How will community boards build and maintain institutional knowledge, or learn enough about really complicated stuff like zoning so they can hold developers and others accountable?
For a community board to function well, it needs a balance of new and old perspectives. Long-tenured community board members who have completed 8 years can continue to offer their valuable expertise by giving testimony just as the rest of the public has the opportunity to do.
After taking a single 2-year term off, people can then be reappointed for up to 8 more years.
To avoid complete turnover and ensure smooth continuity in this first round of transitions in the years 2027-28, #3 will allow current Board members to serve an additional 2 years (or 5 terms).
Besides, being required to have a transition and onboarding process for new members is a good thing! It may encourage Community Boards to develop transparent systems for sharing information with new members and the broader public, to ensure that essential knowledge isn’t limited to a few people holding all the power.
How well are Borough Presidents using their current power to periodically appoint and replace Community Board members?
Ideally, Borough Presidents monitor community board membership to ensure a diverse balance of voices—younger and older, homeowners and renters, various ethnicities, and a range of incomes and education levels.
But since they aren’t required to do this, the reality is that it often doesn’t happen.
Many Community Board members have been there for a long, long time—some even 20, 30, and 40 years! As a result, numerous Community Boards no longer reflect the diverse communities that they serve.
This it not to diminish the commitment of community board members, who are doing an incredible public service.
We have term limits for every elected office in NYC. But Community Board members are appointed, mostly by Borough Presidents and some by Council Members. Right now, they have no term limits.
We believe that term limits will open doors for more diverse New Yorkers to get involved and become community leaders.