New York City - Participatory Budgeting

Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It’s grassroots democracy at its best - and D21 was the technological partner of it in 2016 and will be again in 2017.

Client Introduction

Participatory Budgeting NYC 2016 (PBNYC) let residents allocate $38 million of the city’s budget to projects proposed by community members, the largest PB process in North America. 2015-16 marked the fifth cycle for PBNYC, with 28 of 51 city council districts participating.


The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and her team wanted to make it easier for PBNYC participants to share project ideas, get community feedback, register securely, vote digitally in person or from home, and save taxpayer money (and trees) by printing less paper and making the counting process more efficient.

D21 solution

D21’s team worked with the Council to allow, for the first time, digital voting options in all 28 participating districts. In 11 districts, residents had the option to pre-register in-person and securely vote online from their smartphone or personal computer. A great advantage that D21 also brought was an automatized creation and counting of paper ballots which significantly lowered both the time of counting and errors.

Five districts also used D21 polls to ”crowdsource” project ideas produced by the neighborhood assemblies, allowing hundreds more community members to give their feedback earlier in the process and spreading the word about PB. Finally, adding a digital system behind the in-person process also allowed the Council to standardize their voter registration process across all districts, print fewer unused ballots, and let voters vote find their ”home” ballot at any voting site across the city.


The digital registration system was a notable success, with many districts reporting how pleased they were not to turn voters away simply because they were from a different participating district. Several districts also reported the usefulness of having D21 “crowdsourced polls” earlier in the process, with over 600 community members in a single Queens district participating. During vote week, the widespread availability of the digital ballot allowed hundreds of voters to vote “remotely” on their home ballot from another voting site, and allowed the city to save money by printing thousands fewer unused ballots than in 2015. Finally, D21’s on-site counting team processed 67,000 ballots in just under three days -- a major improvement from the 23 days of counting required by city staff the previous cycle.

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