What’s on the ballot: A busy New Yorker’s guide to the five charter revision questions

Council Speaker Corey Johnson listens to public testimony at a charter revision commission hearing in Manhattan. Photo via the Charter Revision Commission.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson listens to public testimony at a charter revision commission hearing in Manhattan. Photo via the Charter Revision Commission.

By Victoria Merlino

Ballot questions. Though they can seem inscrutable to anyone who hasn’t followed the inner workings of New York City, “yes” or “no” votes can overhaul aspects of the City Charter — and subsequently life in the city. 

This election, there are five of them, making Election Day even more complicated for most voters. 

With early voting starting on Oct. 26, and Election Day on Nov. 5, the Eagle is here with a quick and easy review of the ballot questions, what the heck they’re actually talking about and what they could mean for you. 

Ballot Question 1: Voting

Read it in full here.

The summary: There are three items on the table here: implementing ranked choice voting, increasing the amount of time between when certain elected positions go vacant and when their special elections need to be, and speeding up the timeline on the City Council redistricting process following the 2020 census. 

A word on ranked choice voting: The goal is to eliminate “runoffs” in primaries and special elections, a term for elections that occur if no candidate receives at least 40 percent of the vote. You can see runoffs happen in elections with a large pool of candidates, and although they are rare, they are costly, according to the Campaign Finance Board website. Instead of just choosing one candidate for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president and city councilmember, voters will rank their preferred choices. If one candidate didn’t snag over 50 percent of the vote, candidates will be eliminated and votes aggregated based on how the candidates were ranked, until there is a winner.  

Yes, but what does this all actually mean for me? Ranked choice voting will be one of the most impactful issues on the ballot to the average voter if passed during this election. The other two items aren’t as drastic, but present bigger timeframes for politicians and voters alike to prepare for special elections and the 2023 City Council elections. 

Ballot Question 2: Police Oversight and the Civilian Complaint Review Board

Read it in full here.

The summary: This host of proposals would increase the power of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which serves as an independent watchdog for complaints against NYPD officers’ use of force, abuse of power and other similar issues. If the question passes, it would add new members to the board, better stabilize its budget, make the police commissioner more accountable to the CCRB, allow the board to directly address false statements made by police officers during board investigations, as well as give the CCRB executive director power to issue subpoenas.  

Yes, but what does this all actually mean for me? The CCRB reforms are designed to give a little more heft to the agency and expand its influence as New York City grapples with police transparency and accountability. In an interview with the Gotham Gazette, CCRB Chair Fred Davie threw his support behind the reforms. New York City’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, is against it, saying that increased CCRB monitoring would hinder officers trying to do their jobs

Ballot Question 3: Governmental Ethics

Read it in full here.

The summary: This package addresses ethics in government. The proposal, if passed, would increase the amount of time former city officials in the private sector cannot deal directly with their former city agency, further restrict the political activity Conflicts of Interest Board members and require greater collaboration between the mayor and the City Council to hire someone for the city’s top legal counsel spot, the Corporation Counsel. Other changes would include diversifying who gets to appoint members to the Conflicts of Interest Board, and further formalizing the Office of Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise.

Yes, but what does this all actually mean for me? If passed by voters, the question represents a broad set of tweaks to current New York City government that would dig into the Conflicts of Interest Board, shake up the balance of power between the mayor and the City Council on Corporation Counsel picks, and work to stop what proponents, such as Bella Wang of League of Women Voters of the City of New York, call the “revolving door” of government employees to lobbyists. Good government group Citizen’s Union opposes the question, saying it “includes controversial items and covers disparate issues.” 

Ballot Question 4: City Budget

Read it in full here.

The summary: This set of proposals focuses on city budgetary concerns. If passed, it would establish a “rainy day” fund for future economic downturns or unforseen city crises, stabilize the budgets of the public advocate and borough presidents, and set more limits around the mayor’s city revenue estimate and budget modification processes. 

Yes, but what does this all actually mean for me? The majority of these proposals put more checks on the mayor, giving set guarantees and deadlines to the public advocate, City Council and comptroller through varying aspects of the budgetary process. 

Ballot Question 5: Land Use 

Read it in full here.

The summary: This question deals with two aspects of land use application process in New York City. One part deals with ULURP, the process in which elected officials and communities have input on land use applications in their area. The proposed change would bring these stakeholders in the conversation between potential developers and the city government about a space at least 30 days sooner than they are now. The other change would give more time to community boards to voice their opinions about a land use project during June and July, when many members take vacations. 

Yes, but what does this all actually mean for me? The ballot question, if passed, would lengthen application review times in June and July, which can already take months to complete, but afford better opportunities for communities to review applications. The question could also open developers to more community input before the Department of City Planning has approved the application for the ULURP process.