Many of us would not consider ourselves political individuals and do not put going to the polls on our list of priorities. Nonetheless, casting your ballot gives you a voice on issues ranging from housing and education to employment and healthcare. Being involved in the voting process allows you make a real difference in the makeup and decisions within your community. Casting a vote has dire consequences for the quality of life that both you and your family experience today and in the years ahead. From riding the bus or train to raising minimum wage to getting better textbooks in school, your vote decides how these issues will play out. Casting your ballot affords you the opportunity to delegate how your hard-earned tax dollars are divvied out for necessities like medical expenses and social services that many take for granted.
Don’t forget, if you don’t take the time to vote, you are allowing others to speak on your behalf, and it’s often a viewpoint that differs from your own. When you go to the polling site, you now take upon yourself the responsibility to effect positive change and support the candidate of your choosing who you believe can best support the ideals of your neighborhood.
I spoke with Adam Suionov to get answers to some of the most common questions surrounding voting. Adam currently works at New York City Council District 24, under the Speaker’s Office. (The comments made in this interview reflect his personal opinion in his private capacity as a community member, and do not reflect the opinion, view, or position of New York City Council or its Elected Members and Offices.)
Does my vote actually count?
Adam Suionov: Your vote is really important, in more than one way. First of all, small numbers of votes can sway an election. The Queens community saw this most clearly with last year’s Queens District Attorney election. In the Primary Election for that race, the victory was decided by a little more than 50 votes.
But elections are not the only thing influenced by votes. Voting data is generated at each election, and this data is extremely important to a large number of agencies, private institutions, and organizations. The data is also a very important tool for the political maturity of a community. Private Schools, community organizations, and even shuls can really benefit from strong voter turnout during an election cycle.
In a nutshell, voters are doing more than choosing a candidate for political office. Voters demonstrate interest in community affairs, and this draws the kind of attention that brings good things to the community. Your vote can benefit the community by indirectly attracting funding for institutions and organizations. It can also help strengthen the community political voice, which often stands to improve quality of living in the neighborhood.
How do I vote?
AS: In order to vote in an election in New York City, you need to first register to vote. You can do this easily online by visiting www.ny.gov/services/register-vote. You can also Google search the term “register to vote NYC” and find the link that way. The other option to register to vote is by mail. You can download a registration form on the NYC website by following the same link above. Fill out the form, print it, sign it, and then mail it to the address provided on the form.
Whether you chose to register online or by mail, you can expect to answer a few ID questions, such as writing the last four digits of your social security number and/or your Driver License ID number.
After filling out the first portion of the form, you will have the option to join a political party, such as Democrat, Republican, Independent, etc.
Once you register to vote, you will be able to vote in any General or Special election. You only need to register to vote once, and not again during each election. However, if you want to switch your political party, simply register to vote again and choose which party you would like to register with.
What is the difference between Primary and General Elections?
AS: The party you register with determines which Primary Elections you can participate in. A Primary Election is different from a General Election or a Special Election. In a General Election, voters choose between candidates from different parties, and the victor wins a political office. In a Primary Election, voters will choose which candidate represents a single party, and the victor will then run in the General Election (as the representative of his or her party).
So the party you register with affects your choices as follows: If you register with the Democratic Party, you will be able to vote who the Democratic nominee will be in the General Election, but you will not be able to choose who the Republican nominee will be in the General Election.
Similarly, if you register with the Republican Party, you will be able to vote who the Republican nominee will be in the General Election, but you will not be able to choose who the Democratic nominee will be in the General Election.
Is there a strategic factor when it comes to choosing which party to register with?
AS: It depends on what is important to you as a voter. Some people choose to register with a party based on principle, while others choose based on which party has more of a chance to get their candidate in office.
For example, the Democratic Party in Queens has vastly more registered voters than does the Republican Party: 869,928 Registered Democrats vs. 151,590 Registered Republicans, according to the latest Board of Elections Data (11/01/2020). This puts any Queens Democratic Candidate in almost any Queens General Election at a massive advantage in his or her contest for public office. Since General Elections are about one party candidate vs. another party candidate, the outcome of General Elections in Queens is usually very predictably in favor of the Democratic Party’s candidate.
What is usually less predictable in Queens are the Democratic Primary Elections (which decide who will be the Democrat nominee for the ensuing General Election). For example, in the District Attorney race mentioned above, Tiffany Cabán ran a very close race with Melinda Katz and lost by just more than 50 votes. Katz won and became the Democratic Party’s nominee for the following General Election.
After winning the Democratic Primary Elections by only 50+ votes, Katz won the General Election by almost 100,000 votes! In the General Election, her total vote count was 146,597. The next highest vote count was for Republican Candidate Joe Murray, who collected 47,112 votes.
What this data demonstrates is a) How the victors of the Queens Democratic Party Primary Elections usually win in Queens General Elections; and b) That the Democrat Party is basically splitting between those who support candidates trending left/more liberal, and those who support candidates trending more centrist/less liberal. There is therefore an effective strategy when Queens’ citizens register to vote and join the Democratic Party, because they are able to vote in the Democratic Primary Elections and decide who they want to represent the Democratic Party in the General Election. The Queens Democratic Primary victor is likely to win the Queens General Elections.
What is a “Special Election”?
AS: A Special Election is an election that is declared when a political office is vacated as the result of a unique circumstance. Such an Election does not come after a Primary Election, and the victor wins the vacant political office without having to first win his party nomination. Voters in Special Elections will directly decide who wins a political office.
If you want to vote in a Special Election, you still need to be registered to vote, but it doesn’t matter which party you register with. Special Elections are about voting for who fills a political office, and not about voting for who becomes a political party’s nominee. Therefore, a Special Election can have multiple candidates from a single party running against each other.
For example, during the first week of November, former New York City Councilmember Rory Lancman resigned, leaving an entire year left to his term. This opened the Council seat for the 24th District, which prompted a Special Election to fill the seat for the remainder of his term. The Special Election is planned for Tuesday, February 2, and anyone who registers to vote by Friday, January 8, will be able to vote on Special Election Day, regardless of party affiliation.
Many candidates have already declared their interest in running for this seat, including multiple candidates who identify as Democrats. Voters will thus be able to choose from a wide range of options, including more centrist Democrats, like Jim Gennaro on the one side, and far left Democrats like Moumita Ahmed on the other side.
The Special Election for District 24 will also be the first time that we see a new method of voting called “Ranked Choice Voting.” The way this works is as follows: Voters will be able to choose up to five candidates for office on their ballot, in order of their preference. Most desired candidate is choice 1, and least desired (but still desired) candidate being choice 5. If a voter’s number 1 candidate clearly loses, then their vote for candidate 2 is counted. This continues down the line of choices from 1 through 5.
Would you like to include a final message?
AS: My last point is, register to vote! Regardless of who you vote for, or which party you join, registering to vote is very important for all the reasons we mentioned at the opening of this interview. A community’s great weapon in all political considerations is its registered voters.