Editor’s Note: This op-ed was co-authored by city council candidates David Aronov (Queens), Aleta LaFargue (Manhattan), Kim Moscaritolo (Manhattan), Corey Ortega (Manhattan), Marcos Sierra (Bronx), Christopher Durosinmi (Brooklyn), Brian Cunningham (Brooklyn), Selina Grey (Staten Island)
It is only the beginning of the 2021 municipal election cycle, but it is already shaping up to be highly consequential for the future of our city. Our leadership will be transformed as over 300 candidates run in a historically high number of competitive elections for open City Council seats and citywide offices.
These races are taking place while we bear the devastating losses of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Campaigning during a public health crisis must look different: it is imperative that communities can participate in our democracy and stay safe while doing so. This means avoiding as the direct and in-person interactions integral to traditional campaigning as possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and practicing social distancing and organizing digitally is the best way we can do exactly that.
Currently, getting on the ballot for the June 2021 primary election requires candidates to go into their communities in-person to collect thousands of signatures from their constituents as part of a petitioning process that begins in February. Beyond the fact that these legally required interactions are always in-person, they almost always do not and cannot meet social distancing standards.
We cannot afford to have a petitioning process this year: it is irresponsible and dangerous to make spreading COVID-19 the cost of ballot access. We must practice safety first while allowing voters to participate in our democracy and choose our city’s future leaders.
Reducing the serious risk of transmitting COVID-19 posed by the petitioning process is not just a problem for late winter– special elections mean that petitioning processes are happening right now. Petitioning for the special election in District 24, ex-Councilmember Rory Lancman’s (D-Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica) seat, just finished in recent weeks and there are even more special elections slated for early January.
We, as City Council candidates running in districts across all five boroughs, are calling for either the State Senate and Assembly to pass legislation or the Governor to sign an Executive Order to immediately eliminate the 2021 petitioning process in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially as our city and country experiences an increase in cases, we must take action to protect the safety of voters, and campaign staff alike.
Instead of the traditional petitioning process, we should explore other methods for candidates to qualify for the ballot. A bill sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), and co-sponsored by Council Members Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx), Antonio Reynoso (D-Ridgewood and parts of Brooklyn), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria, Dutch Kills), and Inez Barron (D-Brooklyn), proposes an interesting ballot qualification method. The bill posits a secondary method to ballot qualification – if a candidate has qualified for the threshold requirements of the Campaign Finance Board’s matching program, they would also qualify for the ballot. It is a particularly enticing option, as it would not only save taxpayers money but also reduce potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus from petitioning and trips to the Board of Elections and the courts.
To keep our neighbors safe now and improve our local democracy going forward, we believe there must be other paths to ballot access. Suspending the process for the 2021 election cycle is an opportunity to demonstrate that petitioning-free elections are better for our democracy, building momentum towards statewide implementation of a new ballot access system for 2022’s state races.
Aleta LaFargue, Candidate, Council District 03 (Manhattan)
Kim Moscaritolo, Candidate, City Council District 05 (Manhattan)
Corey Ortega, Candidate, City Council District 07 (Manhattan)
Marcos Sierra, Candidate, City Council District 11 (Bronx)
David Aronov, Candidate, City Council District 29 (Queens)
Christopher Durosinmi, Candidate, City Council District 37 (Brooklyn)
Brian Cunningham, Candidate City, Council District 40 (Brooklyn)
Selina Grey, Candidate, City Council District 49 (Staten Island)