Whether you’re on your way to P.S. 207 to vote early or you’re waiting to cast your ballot on Nov. 5, one thing is for certain: Bring your reading glasses, and maybe a cup of coffee, because there are more than 1,000 words of proposals you’ll have to absorb.
That’s because among races involving the public advocate, judges and the Bronx district attorney, voters also will have a chance to once again weigh in on proposed amendments to the city charter, including one amendment that could fundamentally change how city elections are conducted in the future.
If approved, Proposal No. 1 on the ballot would give voters a chance to select not only who they think would best represent them in the city, but provide a second, third, fourth and fifth choice as well.
“The rationale put together by the Charter Review Commission is they think it will give us a truer (election) result,” Councilman Andrew Cohen told members of Concerned Citizens for Change during their regular meeting last weekend at Manhattan College.
Right now, if someone running for citywide office doesn’t secure 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election is slated between the top candidates, Cohen said. That extra election is expensive. And worse, turnout for such a runoff is historically low.
Through a ranked choice ballot, if a candidate doesn’t reach 50 percent, there’s no need for a runoff, because voters already have provided alternatives. Elections officials will use an elimination process involving the rankings until a winner is determined.
Cohen’s concern, however, is that such a system could be gamed by savvy candidates.
“There is an opportunity for collusion,” the councilman said. “They could say things like, ‘I will persuade my people to vote for you for No. 2, if you will try to persuade people to vote for me on No. 1. I was concerned that it would lead people who want to participate and want to be involved in elections to get into trouble.”
With a ranked ballot, voters can still pick just one person if they want. Or they can rank fewer than five. If such a measure did pass, Cohen said, there would certainly need to be an adjustment period.
“It will definitely be complicated, and it will definitely take some getting used to,” the councilman said. “But it is worth a try.”
This is the second time in as many years voters will have to lend a voice in proposed charter amendments. Last year, a commission put together by Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed through some amendments, including one limiting how long volunteers can serve on a community board at a time.
Generally, the city council can propose and even approve amendments to the charter, which functions as sort of a constitution for the city. However, anything that shifts power from one government jurisdiction to another requires a referendum vote involving the entire city, Cohen said. Powers like who can appoint members to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which oversees the New York Police Department.
The 13-member board includes five from each borough recommended by the city council, five from the mayor — including the CCRB’s chair — and three from the police commissioner with law enforcement experience. All the choices, however, go through the mayor.
If the charter amendment passes, CCRB’s membership will grow to 15, with added appointments by the public advocate, and a joint selection by both the mayor and the city council Speaker, who also will become chair. The amendment also would let the city council directly appoint its members without needing to go through the mayor.
The amendment — Proposal No. 2 — also would better control the CCRB’s budget, and require the police commissioner to publicly share reasoning behind taking (or not taking) disciplinary action on an officer against the CCRB’s recommendation. While the CCRB can recommend discipline against an officer, the ultimate authority remains with the commissioner.
“The charter is trying to balance the need for the public to have confidence that there is an independent place to bring a grievance against a police officer versus the desire of the police department to be able to discipline members in-house,” Cohen said. “This has been a very difficult balance to strike.
“I don’t think the current charter strikes the right balance, and I’m not sure that this (proposed amendment) is going to make it worlds better. But it is an incremental change, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
One other amendment that isn’t getting a lot of attention, but one that might strike the interest of some of Cohen’s Riverdale voters is Proposal No. 5 which would require the city planning department to share summaries of proposed building projects with borough presidents and community boards much earlier in the process.
The current system doesn’t require such plans to be shared until the planning department certifies them. Once that happens, however, there’s a ticking clock through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure that gives community boards just 60 days to look at it for the first time.
The head’s up could allow community boards to be more prepared, according to proponents of this amendment, and increasing the amount of time community boards can look at such proposals over the summer will no longer require them to hold emergency sessions when they’re supposed to be on break.
The five proposals cover 19 actual amendments to the city charter, and also tackle areas like conflicts of interest and the city budget. Yet those who do venture out to vote in an off-cycle election could still be quite surprised, Cohen said, because the city’s public education about these measures has been done “very poorly” to this point.
“They are doing a poor job in getting the word out,” Cohen said. “Many people who are walking into that booth are going to be seeing all of these for the very first time.”
Early voting in the city begins for the first time Saturday, Oct. 26, running through Sunday, Nov. 3. Voters in this part of the Bronx will have to travel to P.S. 207 at 3030 Godwin Terrace to take advantage of early balloting, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., on weekends, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., during the week — except for Tuesday and Friday, where polls will remain open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Regular voting will take place at normal voting precincts Tuesday, Nov. 5.