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Everything you need to know about Tuesday’s NYC municipal election

Written by
Clayton Guse

Four years ago, New York City was abuzz with election fever. Local democrats were looking to take back the mayor’s office for the first time in 20 years, and republicans were working to fill Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s enormous shoes. Bill de Blasio, running on a campaign focused on social justice and ending the NYPD’s longstanding “stop and frisk” practice, had emerged from relative obscurity to defeat former New York City comptroller Bill Thompson and disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner in the democratic primary, before handily besting MTA chairman Joe Lhota in the general election.

There was drama. There was a sex scandal. There was a general sense of excitement and hope for New York City politics.

On Tuesday, New Yorkers will head back to the polls for another general municipal election, and the feeling could not be more different than it was four years ago. De Blasio easily won the democratic primary this past September, and is widely considered a shoo-in in his race against this year’s republican nominee, New York State Assembly member Nicole Malliotakis. The incumbent mayor does not enjoy the same support that he had when he was first elected into office. After four years of very public quibbling with Governor Andrew Cuomo and a less-than-inspiring first term, it’d be surprising if De Blasio secured 73 percent of the vote like he did in 2013. 

Even without the hype, there is a lot at stake in Tuesday’s election. Here's a breakdown of what you need to know. 

What is on the ballot?

It depends on where you live. Voters across the city will make their picks for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, their respective borough president—as well as respond to a trio of ballot measures. Each City Council District will hold an election to select its representative, but nearly all of those races were all but decided during the primaries. Ten City Council members will be replaced (either due to term limits or declining to run for re-election), including current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Her replacement will not be decided at the polling place, though—that decision comes from the chamber itself. 

Wait, back up. What are these ballot measures you speak of?

Voters across New York State will find three different measures on their ballots on Tuesday. The first proposal is the most intriguing: it asks voters whether or not the state should hold a Constitutional Convention. The question is put on ballots in the state every 20 years, and such a convention hasn't been held since 1967. Some advocates say that a Constitutional Convention would allow for grassroots organizations to make key changes to laws and policies in New York (such as legalizing cannabis), while many fear that it would give way for lobbyists and special interest groups to re-engineer the constitution in their favor. 

The other two ballot proposals are much less contentious. The second proposal asks if New York State should amend its constitution to reduce or revoke the pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony, and the third would authorize towns across New York to use up to 250 acres of forest preserve land for public use (think bicycle paths and utility lines). 

Can I still register to vote?

Unfortunately, New York City does not have same-day voter registration, and the deadline to register has passed (don't say we didn't try to remind you). Even so, there isn’t a whole lot of hope that there will be a huge voter turnout on Tuesday. Just 14 percent of active registered democrats turned out for the municipal primary election in September, and a record low 24 percent of registered voters showed up in 2013’s general municipal election. 

Why should I care?

Tuesday is a day before the one-year anniversary of the 2016 U.S. national election. While there isn’t nearly as much at stake on the federal or global level in the 2017 municipal election, the results of the races will have a much more salient impact on the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers. If Mayor Bill de Blasio again wins in a landslide, he’ll enter his second term with a renewed level of political firepower (the inverse applies if the race turns out to be close). Depending on your City Council District, you could be electing the next Council Speaker, which is arguably the second most-powerful position in the city government. The prospect of a Constitutional Convention is on the table for New Yorkers for the first time this millennium, and it could very well come with some drastic consequences. 

In a year that’s been filled with political division and calls for civic participation, it’d be hard to drum up a legitimate reason why you shouldn’t care about Tuesday’s election.

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