Photograph of New Yorkers at a citizenship event.
Photograph of New Yorkers at a citizenship event.
OneNYC 2050 : Volume 2 of 9 : A Vibrant Democracy

Empower all New Yorkers to participate in our democracy

Our democracy is strongest when participation is active and widespread, with residents informing and shaping policies that impact their lives, strengthening their communities, serving their neighbors, and advocating national and global issues critical to our shared future. Only with an engaged public can we hold our political leaders accountable and fully leverage our city as a platform to drive global change. Yet voter participation and registration and citizen engagement in democratic processes are low, and vary by place. As a result, when the City seeks public input and facilitates community decision-making processes, the information it receives does not fully represent all residents equally across communities and agencies. While many organizations provide opportunities to get involved through volunteerism or community activism, these efforts do not reach everyone. Both the City and State can do more to strengthen our democracy and give all New Yorkers a voice.
Expand voting rights and representation to bring more New Yorkers to the polls
Voter turnout varies by neighborhood.
Map displaying voter turnout varies by neighborhood.

Voter turnout varies by neighborhood.

Source: Campaign Finance Board

The right to choose our government is fundamental to our democracy. Despite recent reforms, New York State’s archaic election laws have made it too difficult for many New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote, and too easy for well-funded special interests to influence the outcomes of elections. In early 2019, after years of advocacy by New York City, the State Legislature passed meaningful reforms to cap corporate contributions, introduce early voting, enable online registration, and allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote, among other measures. Lawmakers also began the process to allow same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting — two policies the City will actively support when they come up for vote in 2020

But we cannot stop there. To increase voter participation, the State must enact automatic voter registration and restore voting rights for citizens on parole. In parallel, the City must increase voter registration among underrepresented groups. For example, the City registered 10,000 young people during its first Student Voter Registration Day in 2018 — and intends to increase that number in 2019. We also hosted registration drives on Rikers Island to ensure the voices of justice-involved individuals are heard, and coordinated with advocates of New Yorkers with disabilities to broaden representation. These efforts will accelerate in the years ahead, with campaigns in all five boroughs encouraging more New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote.

Young people are least likely to turn out to vote, especially in nonpresidential years.

Chart showing voter turnout in NYC by age.

Source: New York City Campaign Finance Board

Expand Opportunities for Democratic engagement

In 2018, New Yorkers voted decisively to establish a Civic Engagement Commission in order to have a greater say in policymaking. As the Commission begins its work, it will focus on three core areas:

  • Implement participatory budgeting (PB) citywide to give New Yorkers a say in how City dollars are spent
    By 2020, New York City will ensure a citywide process is in place to facilitate participatory budgeting in every neighborhood — a process in which residents vote on improvement projects in their communities to fund with City capital dollars. Citywide PB builds on a program launched by the New York City Council in 2012, through which New Yorkers have directed $210 million to more than 700 local projects. In 2018 alone, nearly 100,000 residents in 34 of New York City’s 51 Council Districts voted to allocate more than $36 million to more than 120 projects at schools, parks, libraries, public housing, and other public spaces in their communities. Their votes count regardless of citizenship status or age. The total dollars set aside for PB — and the number of local projects that will benefit from it — will grow in the years ahead.
By 2020, all New Yorkers will be able to fund community improvement projects through participatory budgeting.
Map displaying council districts offering participatory budgeting by year.

By 2020, all New Yorkers will be able to fund community improvement projects through participatory budgeting.

Source: New York City Council

  • Provide language interpreters at poll sites
    The U.S. Voting Rights Act requires the New York City Board of Elections to offer interpretation services for languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Bengali) at poll sites. Still, we need to do more in a city as diverse as New York. Beginning in 2017, the City has operated a pilot project to place interpreters at poll sites to provide assistance in other languages beyond those covered by the Voting Rights Act — including Russian, Haitian Creole, Yiddish, Polish, Italian, and Arabic in the past two years. The Civic Engagement Commission will formalize a program for providing language interpreters at poll sites to help eligible voters understand the issues, regardless of their English proficiency.
Projects funded by participatory budgeting since 2012 have focused on schools and community enhancements.
Bar graph displaying projects funded by participatory budgeting since 2012 in NYC.

Projects funded by participatory budgeting since 2012 have focused on schools and community enhancements.

Source: Open Data: PBNYC

  • Develop a citywide community engagement strategy to foster greater community participation
    At any given time, dozens of City and community organizations — including community boards, City agencies, and community-based organizations — engage with the public to gather input and distribute information at hundreds of locations across the five boroughs and online. Community spaces such as libraries, community centers, and health centers serve more people in more ways than ever before — and many are places where New Yorkers go for trusted information and access to public services. The Civic Engagement Commission will assess the current landscape of civic activity to identify best practices and resource gaps, and opportunities for partnerships, and then develop a citywide strategy to enhance and expand its efforts. It will also establish a process to provide assistance and training to community boards related to land use expertise and language interpretation, to ensure all communities have access to resources to support local review.In addition, New York City will explore two new ways to promote civic connectedness and action: The first is a citywide sentiment survey that, if undertaken, would gauge New Yorkers’ satisfaction with various aspects of city life, and solicit ideas for creating a better city. The survey would elevate the diverse perspectives needed to drive change and innovation, and build on the OneNYC 2050 survey, which polled more than 14,000 New Yorkers from every New York City neighborhood over six months. The second is an event aimed at engaging all New Yorkers in civic action. Every year, more than 250,000 people move to New York City. Hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers search for ways to get involved in their communities and in issues both local and global. The City will explore hosting or partnering on an event — part festival, part New York City “orientation” — that promotes civic connectedness and activism.

A City of Volunteers

New York City is committed to leveraging the unique strengths of our diverse communities, and expanding neighborhood volunteer networks across the city to give every New Yorker a chance to serve. NYC Service connects New Yorkers to volunteer opportunities in all five boroughs through online platforms such as nyc.gov/service — which features more than 800 nonprofits and City agencies, and is visited by more than 30,000 users each month. NYC Service also builds volunteer capacity among City agencies and community-based nonprofits to communicate their message, manage volunteers, engage new ones, and track impacts. Efforts are paying off: In 2018, NYC Service was able to track more than 1 million New Yorkers volunteering at more than 400 organizations — a 48 percent increase of reported volunteers since the City first began tracking volunteerism in 2014. We are committed to increasing those numbers. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit nyc.gov/service.

Photograph with three culinary business owners in NYC.

Lead a comprehensive effort to count every New Yorker, as part of the 2020 Census

The U.S. Census is a constitutionally mandated survey of the national population that takes place every 10 years. It is also used to determine each state’s representation in Congress, and allocate billions of federal dollars for housing, health care, community development, and other programs. Ensuring an accurate count during each Census is particularly critical to New York City, as the Census provides rich demographic data the City uses to set policy. And the stakes will be particularly high in 2020, as the federal government plans to add a question to the Census regarding citizenship status that will likely discourage thousands of immigrant New Yorkers from completing a Census form, thus reducing our overall count. New York City has joined states and municipalities from across the country to block the citizenship question. Yet even beyond this question, we recognize the urgent need to reach hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in “hard-to-count” households — those who are unlikely to respond on their own to the Census forms, and therefore require an in-person follow-up.

Starting this year, the City is spearheading a comprehensive, multiyear effort to count every New Yorker — an effort that will also serve as a model for future Censuses in 2030 and beyond. Strategies will include:

  • Digital-first tactics to encourage web responses, correct misinformation, and leverage City data to target in-person outreach most effectively
  • Social media and print-ad campaigns showing how everyday experiences and essential needs are linked to the Census count, and using influencers to push messages about the importance of being counted and the confidentiality of Census responses
  • Mobilization of City street teams, community organizations, and public volunteers to spread awareness and make sure every New Yorker is counted on Census Day, April 1, 2020
New York City has a robust network of community facilities that will be further leveraged through a coordinated engagement strategy.
Map of public libraries, senior services, community services and youth services in NYC.

New York City has a robust network of community facilities that will be further leveraged through a coordinated engagement strategy.

Source: DCP

Increase Digital Literacy and Combat the Misinformation and Hate Speech that Threatens Democracy

Maintaining the city’s democracy will increasingly depend on the digital and data literacy of New Yorkers of all ages. In 2018, more than half of all NYC 311 service requests were submitted digitally, while the 2020 Census will be the first to encourage responses via an online form. Both are examples of how engaging with government through digital platforms is becoming more commonplace. NYC Open Data — the nation’s largest free municipal data service — is a digital pathway for New Yorkers to learn more about how government works, and to use data to better understand their communities. To leverage the NYC Open Data Program, New York City will:

  • Increase the usability of the NYC Open Data platform by improving resources through Metadata for All, continuing efforts in universal design and accessibility, and developing new product features to enable discoverability and usability of the data.
  • Train students from the City University of New York (CUNY) to identify, collect, clean, and publish data from its 24 different college campuses onto NYC Open Data.
  • Develop a repository of open source educational resources to empower teachers, including curriculums for teaching data, computer science, statistics, and civics using open data, and commissioning curriculums for targeted communities such as data journalists, activists, nonprofits, and New York City staff.
  • Empower local activists and researchers to publish community-collected data onto NYC Open Data and provide a civic solutions pathway for locally developed data-driven solutions.
  • Scale civic data literacy efforts by training volunteers across all five boroughs to provide NYC Open Data training at libraries and other community centers.
  • Incubate the first NYC Open Data Advisory Council, composed of leaders from academia, nonprofits, civic technology organizations, and City agencies, which will inform the vision and expansion of the City’s Open Data program.

We also recognize the threats posed by coordinated online misinformation during elections and other important public campaigns. As such, New York City will educate New Yorkers to identify and combat misinformation by expanding the City’s free NYC Secure App, launch public awareness campaigns, and leverage the City’s various communications channels at critical moments. Launched in 2018, NYC Secure has become a model for how to effectively inform residents to protect their smartphones from cyberattacks and data breaches. To build on this progress, NYC Cyber Command (NYC3), an organization created by executive order to lead the City’s digital defense efforts, will enhance the application in future iterations to better safeguard users’ digital lives. Through a partnership among NYC3, New York City’s chief democracy officer, and leaders across local government, we will launch public awareness campaigns concerning digital content and recognizing misinformation, especially during critical moments such as Election Day.

Empower the next generation of New Yorkers to become informed residents and activists

A vibrant democracy depends on the passion and engagement of young adults. Activating youth is a core strategy to promote civic leadership and foster a diverse and inclusive government. To support and promote youth involvement in civic action, New York City will:

  • Teach students across the city about the foundations of democracy
    New York City believes teaching the foundations of American government and the democratic process is necessary to building more-engaged, active future citizens and informed voters. Launched in 2018, Civics for All is an interactive, culturally relevant civics education program that will be available to all grade levels in all communities by fall 2019. The curriculum uses real-life learning opportunities — including research projects, participatory budgeting, field trips, week-long celebrations of civic engagement, and public-speaking competitions — to cultivate future generations of engaged, active, and informed leaders.
  • Promote community organizing through a youth democracy corps  and youth leadership councils
    The City will train a segment of the 70,000 annual Summer Youth Employment Program participants in the fundamentals of economic democracy, the belief that major economic decisions should be made by broad stakeholders, including the public, not just corporate shareholders. These interns between the ages of 14 and 24 will work on the 2020 Census and other initiatives focused on civic engagement, community organizing, and grassroots change. The City will also grow the number of NYC Youth Leadership Councils (YLC) to 300 in City agencies, NYPD precincts, schools, and nonprofits across the city by 2021. These YLCs will enable 4,500 high school youth from diverse communities and socioeconomic backgrounds to influence City policies.