For many in Brooklyn, upcoming elections low on priorities as pandemic lingers


       Video by Leonardo March.

This article is the first in a series looking at voter engagement during the 2021 New York City election cycle, supported by the Center for Community Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Future installments will examine how candidates and voter engagement organizations conduct outreach in the midst of the pandemic, key issues for voters and translation efforts for immigrant communities to explain ranked-choice voting. Email to share ideas and tips.


Jeanne Venus-Aine spends her days working part time as a planned respite crisis counselor. When she’s not busy helping people with disabilities, Venus-Aine, 22, looks for full-time employment. Like nearly everyone else, the Flatbush resident is attuned to news about the COVID-19 vaccines, hoping for a clear end to the pandemic. 

With those pressing issues taking precedence, the upcoming New York City elections have not been at the top of Venus-Aine’s priorities. 

“I don’t really know exactly what’s going on in terms of politics because right now, I’m focusing on my own mental health with all that’s going on at the moment with the pandemic,” Venus-Aine said. “I’m just trying to get my own bearings with life, but eventually, I want to come to terms with where I stand politically.”

Brooklyn is considered the most politically-active borough, with 1,565,209 residents registered to vote, according to New York State voter enrollment data. That’s 60% of eligible voters, compared to the citywide average of 29%.

However, even in this active borough and an election whose impact stands to shape New York City’s political landscape for years to come, many Brooklyn residents like Venus-Aine said they are only vaguely aware of the municipal primary elections taking place June 22. 

The election year features hundreds of candidates for Mayor, Borough President and City Council, where 30 term-limited City Council seats are up for grabs. The winners could influence the pace of the city’s reopening and, consequently, how swiftly stress brought on by the year-long pandemic is alleviated.

Whether COVID-19 will ultimately impact participation in the elections remains to be seen, but it has influenced voter engagement significantly.

“There’s definitely some hesitation and fear, and it’s probably a bit more elevated in the past, not in terms of just knowing the information but accessing the ballot box,” said Crystal Joseph, a spokesperson for the League of Women Voters of New York State. “It’s a matter of reassuring people that things are safe, [of saying] try to stay optimistic in terms of everything going on and still support the election process.” 

The introduction of ranked-choice voting this year has also generated conversation about voter participation, with voter engagement groups determined to make sure the electorate understands the new process. 

“There was confusion with ranked-choice voting before, but now [the] confusion has lessened,” said Debbie Louis, Lead Organizer for Rank the Vote NYC. “We’re seeing more education outreach with people trying to understand how they can get materials to share with their building or their block.”

Uneven level of attention  

Residents cite a variety of pressing issues for their lack of knowledge about the candidates, with the impact of COVID-19 topping the list of priorities. They plan to look at the candidates and the issues as the election approaches in June. 

“I know there is an election because my company has a Slack channel where they post different websites to give people information,” said Kimberly Wheeler, 28, a Prospect Park South attorney. “I usually plan on researching local elections online a week or two weeks before, but this is just too far out in advance.”

“With COVID-19 and everything that is happening around the world, the question is will people think more about who they’re going to vote for or will they pull back and not vote,” said Eusebia Milanes, 71, a retired library employee in Windsor Terrace. “With outreach, the more you see [a candidate] doing good, I guess you select that one.”

Other residents said that they haven’t seen any information and thus are out of the loop in terms of local political issues.

“I haven’t been hearing any talk or seeing a lot of information about who the candidates are, but I will do my research,” said Vanessa Andrews, 63, a healthcare consultant residing in Flatbush.

For many, this time is a reminder to start researching the candidates.

“[New York City elections] have constantly changed, especially over the past four-to-eight years,” said Roland Hooper, 55, a city employee in East Flatbush. “We just have to do our homework to see which candidate will be for the best interest of our citizens.” 

Hooper said he is especially interested in the races for Borough President and State Senate.

“[This election] is going to be different because people are more conscious and they know who they really have to look for,” said Julio Rincon, a 66-year-old superintendent from Flatbush. “After politicians win, they forget everything they promised, so we have to look now for somebody doing something real.”

To learn more about voting in the upcoming elections,visit the Board of Elections at Voters can cast ballots either by mail or early to avoid long lines. Officials have also emphasized all poll sites will be thoroughly sanitized for those who want to vote in person. 

Have an idea for a future story or opinion about this one? Email any time. 

This story was originally published in The Haitian Times.