There’s three ballot questions on the back of the ballot for New Yorkers to vote on in the general election this Nov. 8. All three center around an in-depth report crafted by the city’s Racial Justice Commission (RJC) to promote racial equity and justice in the city constitution.

RJC Chair Jennifer Jones-Austin, who is also the CEO of anti-poverty non-profit FPWA, is doing voter outreach to ensure that people have access to them now since there’s been little to no spotlight on the ballot questions during the primaries this year. “People could have missed that there are racial justice proposals on the ballot and we did not want people to come out to vote and then be discouraged because they didn’t see it,” said Jones-Austin.

She added that the late second primary in August would have also distracted voters from the ballot questions. But, now the commission and nonprofits are trying to get the word out.

“As an everyday New Yorker who first and foremost grew up in the civil rights council with a father who was a civil rights leader––who taught me from a very early point in my life that racism is not a one-to-one system but is structurally embedded in systems and government functioning,” said Jones-Austin, “I know firsthand how deeply embedded racism is as a tool in our government.”

In March 2021, former Mayor Bill de Blasio greenlit the formation of the RJC and appointed 11 commissioners, including Jones Austin. The commission’s main job has been to study and identify areas of structural racism in the city’s charter. After seven months of intense research, public forums, and over 3,000 interviews and accounts, the RJC published a report about the barriers Black and brown New Yorkers face. They then put together the three ballot proposals aimed at removing those barriers. The Amsterdam News reached out to Mayor Eric Adams’ office about his support for the racial commission, its findings, and the ballot questions. Adams’ office did not respond by post time.

Jones Austin said that people mainly spoke about inequity when it comes to hiring and promotion in city jobs, especially among Black women who according to the city council’s recent pay equity report are among the lowest paid among city employees. Other complaints included lack of capital for businesses, police brutality, discrimination in schools, and equity laws not being enforced. 

On the ballot they are Yes or No questions:

Ballot Question #1: This proposal would add a preamble to the city charter stating that it would strive for “a just and equitable city for all” New Yorkers among other things.

Ballot Question #2: This proposal would create a permanent Office of Racial Equity and appoint a chief equity officer.

Ballot Question #3: This proposal would create a “true cost of living” measure to track the actual cost in New York City of meeting essential needs, including housing, food, childcare, transportation, and other necessary costs, and without considering public, private, or informal assistance, in order to inform programmatic and policy decisions.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting:

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