How Covid-19 Has Reshaped Elections in New York City

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For the past one year and a half, New York City and, of course, all other parts of the United States have been facing numerous socio-political and economic challenges, majorly caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic rooted from Wuhan in China. The pandemic has changed the year-long trends of normalcy in the whole world. While the pandemic has claimed many lives, a lot of potential and hardworking New Yorkers are either working from home or turned to idle job seekers. Essentially, it has twisted the ways elections are conducted in New York City; it is no longer the same story anymore.

This year only, several vacant political positions are set to be filled. Among these positions are the City’s Mayor and Comptroller, Presidents for Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, 36 City Council members, numerous Civil Court Judges and delegates.  

From mid-2020, the pandemic has posed several challenges to politicians and potential voters in the City. Unlike in the past, the operational costs of political campaign have risen, and more efforts and sacrifices are now needed to carry out elections in New York City.

Apart from the fact that Covid-19 has toppled many lives across the board – not just in underserved communities in NYC, this year’s election campaign has been battling downturns. In fact, some candidates have closed their campaign offices because some of their volunteers were infected with Covid-19.

In a New York Parrot’s brief interview with the campaign manager of George Onuorah, candidate for City Council District 21 in Queens, Attorney Eunice Ukwuani said, “So many people had to quarantine at home, while others were terrified of getting out of the house before getting fully vaccinated.  It goes without saying that something as simple as collecting petitions just to get on the ballot was a huge challenge for political candidates. The fact that the few available hospital serving a huge immigrant enclave in Queens, and other parts of New York City, at some point, have become the epicenter of the pandemic, this pandemic adversely impacted the whole election process.”

Likewise, in the words of  Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor, a candidate for the Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Bronx County in the 2nd Municipal Court District, “In New York City, candidates were required to acquire a certain number of signatures to be able to make it onto the ballot for the position they seek. This year, the governor, through executive order, lowered the minimum number required to allow candidates to meet a reasonable number of people and avoid further spreading the virus.”

Almost all New York City’s political contestants have devised new ways to run their campaigns. Some have gone extra mile to ensure that their individual campaign takes steps to protect the public by providing volunteers safety vests, hand sanitizers, and personal protective equipment such as face masks. They train their volunteers in proper distancing and use of pens and clipboards so that they could limit the threat of exposure for the entire team and their community, as most of the districts in NYC have been severely affected by COVID-19 infection rates and casualties.

However, it would be unfair to discard the fact that some politicians have capitalized on these catastrophic situations in their campaign. Majority of them now mainly campaign on the placard of provision for lengthened access to the COVID-19 vaccine, job opportunities and affordable housing for their communities.

The big question now is: What are the measures put in place by the NYC government to ease this year’s election amidst the pandemic?

Several measure have been put in place for successful elections in NYC this. For example, having realised that New York City potential voters are concerned about the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19), NYC Campaign Finance Board ensured that relevant information needed to vote safely are virtually made available and regularly updated for the quarantined City’s residents. More so, in order to avoid crowds and long lines, the Board strongly encourages New Yorkers to consider voting by mail or voting early.

Also, the Board of Elections has ensured that all polling sites are clean and safe by strictly following the guidelines issued by CDC for election polling locations. The Board has also gone on heavy sensitization campaign through electronic and traditional media outlets, encouraging voters to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer after touching surfaces in public spaces, especially voting machines. In addition, Voters are enjoined to sign up to receive email and text message alerts at nycvotes.nyccfb.info/vote_smart, or text VOTESMART to 917-979-6377 or follow NYC Votes on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook for regular and instant update.

Additionally, 2021 has witness a big change in the electoral system in NYC with the introduction of Ranked Choice Voting for primary and special elections of the Mayor, the Comptroller, borough Presidents and City Council members. This new electoral system gives room for voters to rank up to 5 candidates in order of preference, instead of choosing just one. How does this work, right? (1) a voter is expected to pick their first-choice candidate and completely fill in the oval next to the candidate’s name under the 1st column; (2) if the voter has a second-choice candidate, they are required to fill in the oval next to their name under the 2nd column; and (3) they can rank up to 5 candidates, though they can still choose to vote for only one candidate if they prefer because ranking other candidates does not affect their first choice. Details about this can be found on https://www.nyccfb.info/nyc-votes/ranked-choice-voting/ .

These and others have made political games and activities in the City to spring to the next level. The trend of electoral process in the City has completely made a U-turn. Only the tough skinned politicians can survive. The Board of Elections has successfully conducted the special elections in districts 11 and 15, so we hope the City will sail through the remaining primary and general elections of this year.

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