New York City 2019 Charter Revision Commission puts 19 proposals on the November ballot, including ranked-choice voting

On July 24, the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission gave final approval to 19 proposals grouped into five separate ballot questions. Voters will decide in favor or against all proposals grouped within a question together. The questions must now be sent to the city clerk before August 5 for inclusion on the November 5 ballot. The five questions relate to the following topics:
  • Question 1: Elections (three proposals)
  • Question 2: Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) (five proposals)
  • Question 3: Ethics and Government (five proposals)
  • Question 4: City Budget (four proposals)
  • Question 5: Land Use (two proposals)
One proposal concerning units of appropriation approved in June by the commission for drafting by staff was removed from the list.
Question 1 proposes implementing ranked-choice voting for primary and special elections beginning in 2021 for the offices of mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and city council. It would not apply to any regular general elections.
Ranked-choice voting is a system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and second choices from those ballots are counted instead. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. New York City Question 1 would allow voters to rank preference for up to five candidates.
Currently, New York City uses a plurality voting system—also called first-past-the-post or winner-take-all—for most municipal elections. In a plurality voting system, the candidate with the most votes wins outright. A combination of plurality and run-off voting systems is used for primary elections for the offices of mayor, comptroller, and public advocate.
Question 1 would also change the timing of special elections to fill vacancies and for city council redistricting.
Question 2 has five proposals concerning the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). The CCRB investigates complaints by members of the public against NYPD officers and recommends disciplinary actions. Changes include adding board members appointed by the public advocate and jointly by the mayor and speaker of the council, allowing the council to appoint members without approval from the mayor, establishing a minimum budget for the CCRB based on a ratio of CCRB staff and city police officers, and provisions concerning the board’s authority to investigate false statements and delegate its power to issue and enforce subpoenas.
Question 3 changes the structure of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), sets rules and restrictions related to ethics and campaigns for certain city staff and members of the COIB, and makes changes to the reporting requirements and operations of the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise.
Question 4 contains four proposals related to the city’s budget. It gives authority within the charter to establish a city rainy-day fund. The fund could not be established without changes to state law. It would also establish minimum budgets for the public advocate and borough presidents and would add requirements regarding the timing of financial reports submitted by the mayor to the city council.
Question 5 makes changes to the reporting and timing requirements for Uniform Land Use Review Procedure projects.
The ordinance creating the 15-member New York City Charter Commission of 2019 was approved by the New York City Council on April 11, 2018, and signed by the mayor on April 30, 2018. The commission is tasked with reviewing the New York City Charter and putting proposals for amending the charter before voters at the November 2019 ballot. The commission has 15 members appointed as follows:
  • four members appointed by the mayor;
  • four members appointed by the speaker of the city council;
  • five members appointed by the five borough presidents (one each);
  • one member appointed by the public advocate; and
  • one member appointed by the comptroller.
The last charter revision commission tasked with a full revision of the city charter put proposals on the 1989 city ballot. The revisions proposed by the 1989 commissioner were approved by voters. There have been other charter revision commissions approved for more specific purposes since 1989, including a commission launched by the mayor to put charter amendments on the November 2018 ballot.
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