Welcome to THE CITY’s first Civic Newsroom newsletter. 

You can sign up to get answers and information about the 2021 elections in New York City — and what an election season it will be!

This year’s races for mayor and much more are particularly complicated, for multiple reasons. 

First, there are a lot of people running for lots of open seats. Second, voters will fill out their ballots slightly differently this year because of a voting method known as ranked choice voting. Third, the June 22 primary — the earliest for municipal elections — could decide most of these races. 

Primaries tend to have very low voter turnout and, with this newsletter and all else we’re doing on the election front, we want to make sure New Yorkers are informed and have a fair chance at choosing the city’s next leaders during this pivotal time.

So from now at least until June 22, we’re going to use this newsletter — part of our Civic Newsroom project, which will include a series of virtual meetings — to give you the information you want and need.

Explaining a confusing race

THE CITY Helps You Navigate the 2021 Elections

Our guide is here to make your decisions easier, with details on candidates, the jobs they’re running for, how to use the new ranked-choice voting system and more.

To start, you should know we already have a series of articles that answer some of the basic questions folks have asked, including:

There are five other articles that hopefully will help ground you in what’s going on. But don’t worry, we plan to recirculate, update and discuss each of these articles (and add new ones) as we move closer to June 22

And as we report, we are also listening — by asking you what else you want to know about voting in this election cycle.

We’ve received hundreds of questions about voting this year. Here’s some of what readers have asked so far

Yeah. Hundreds! This tells us two things: A lot of you want to be involved and there is a lot of confusion.

Let’s jump in and answer a few of those common queries:

What’s going on with the DA races? …and what does a DA do?

Reader Stephen G. asked for a rundown of the race for Manhattan district attorney, especially now that it looks like the current DA, Cyrus Vance Jr., isn’t running for reelection. Thanks for the question, Stephen! We wrote a story that tackled your query.

Here’s the answer: 

So far, eight candidates are vying for the district attorney job in Manhattan. The DA is the top prosecutor for a town, city, county or state. In New York City, each borough, which are each a separate county, has its own district attorney. This person oversees a staff of many prosecutors who deal with all local criminal cases in the borough.  

The DA has a lot of freedom to decide what cases to prosecute, how severe charges should be, whether to seek bail and what plea bargains to strike. The DA can also seize property as part of prosecution. So it’s all pretty important — the DA exercises considerable power affecting you and your neighbors.

Back to Manhattan: Many of the current candidates are reformers who want to see big, big changes in the office — and are highly critical of how Vance ran things.

More about the eight candidates here: What You Need to Know About New York’s District Attorney Races in 2021

In Brooklyn: There is also a DA race in Brooklyn. Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn DA will run again for his seat. So far, no challengers have declared in the race, state campaign records show.

That’s it for DA races this year.

Wondering about absentee ballots? So is Linda.

Reader Linda T. (and many others) asked: “Can I get a mail-in ballot? If yes, how do I request it? (I live in NYC but am a senior and afraid to vote in person due to Covid.)”

Here’s the answer:

Yes, you can still vote with a mail-in ballot due to concerns about COVID-19. State lawmakers expanded who could get absentee ballots in summer of 2020 to accommodate voters who wanted to cast ballots by mail given the risks of doing so in person. Those rules will remain in place until January of next year, according to the city Campaign Finance Board.

All the details about how to vote by absentee are in this guide from the helpful people at NYC Votes, the CFB’s voter engagement unit. If you have any questions or issues with the process, let us know.

Hey Queens! If you live in District 31, you have a special election coming up

Remember: District 31 in Queens has a special election on Feb. 23 — and early voting has already begun! If you live in Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale or Springfield Gardens, read our guide on that contest and two upcoming special elections in The Bronx.

Folks in District 31 will be voting to fill a seat that has been vacant since Dec. 2, when Democratic City Councilmember Donovan Richards was sworn in as Queens borough president. See who is running here.

If you have any specific questions about the special election, let us know.

What does it mean to vote? Come tell us… via Zoom.

We have a team working on our Civic Newsroom project, an effort that aims to inform New Yorkers about voting and the 2021 election. We’re putting together a series of online sessions between now and June 22.

We are planning to meet virtually in three neighborhoods: Mott Haven, Brownsville and Flushing. We’re also holding a citywide virtual meeting. We will virtually meet in each neighborhood multiple times between now and June.

While all the meetings are open to everyone, if you live in those specific neighborhoods, please join us for those meetings. If you live elsewhere in the city, please join us for the citywide meeting. Here are details for the first round of sessions:

  • Citywide meeting: Wednesday, March 3 at 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Sign up here.
  • Mott Haven meeting: Saturday, March 6 at 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Sign up here.
  • Brownsville meeting: Wednesday March 10 at 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Sign up here.
  • Flushing meeting: Saturday, March 13 at 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Sign up here.

In this first meeting, we will discuss what it means to vote, why it’s important and why it’s sometimes hard. Join us!

Bronx resident Yaritza Liriano fills out an affidavit ballot ahead of casting her vote for the first time, Nov. 3, 2020. Credit: Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

What we’re reading

What are your election questions?

We are getting a lot of questions about who is running for City Council, and how to look up local races by neighborhood. We hear you, and we’re working on that! But keep the questions coming.

Also, if you have any questions about the election process, the candidates or any other information when it comes to voting in New York, you can tell us below or you can email civicnewsroom@thecity.nyc.

If you have trouble viewing or don’t see the sign up box, click here.