Representatives of good government, immigrant advocates and other local organizations gathered outside Federal Hall on Wall Street last week to announce an awareness campaign for the upcoming November election. The campaign wasn’t about any of the specific candidates or races, but the issues that will appear on the back of voters’ ballots this year. This coalition of more than two dozen groups – led by Common Cause New York and Make the Road New York – said it would work to encourage people to vote “yes” on the first, third and fourth proposals. to change the constitution of the state – all linked to elections.
In total, New Yorkers will be asked to weigh in on five ballot proposals on November 2 (or sooner if they get a mail-in ballot or vote sooner). It is not every election that such questions arise, and with the questions on the reverse of the ballot, education and awareness are essential – especially for the particularly bulky Proposition 1, which would alter the redistribution process. state while an independent commission is functioning. redraw the neighborhood lines at the same time.
Expansion of absentee voting and same-day voter registration
Two of the propositions: n ° 3 and n ° 4, are quite simple. The n ° 4 would allow the vote of absent without excuse. New York is one of the few states that does not allow voters to vote by mail for no reason such as illness, disability, or being away from your electoral district. Mail-in ballots have been accessible throughout the pandemic thanks to state legislation expanding the definition of “temporary illness” to include fear of contracting COVID-19. But the law is set to expire soon, reverting to a small handful of reasons voters were allowed to give for postal voting, and the constitution needs an amendment to change that. “Voting should be so much easier here in New York,” Senator Jessica Ramos said during the campaign announcement. “And it’s always embarrassing that we have to catch up with other states.”
The number 3 would allow same-day voter registration in the state. The registration deadline has been extended significantly with electoral reforms passed in 2019 to 10 days before an election, but the state constitution prevents lawmakers from moving it further back and allowing voters to register on the same day. ballot, which is available in many other states. “This is how we make our democracy a better democracy and a democracy that works for all of us,” said Theo Oshiro, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. The two amendments would not immediately implement the changes, but would remove constitutional hurdles that prevent the state legislature from passing laws to make the changes, which are popular according to public polls.
Controversial changes in the process of redistributing the state
The proposal for the first round is much less simple. This would bring multiple changes to the new state redistribution process, which is currently underway. The redistribution process was established in 2014 and involves an independent commission appointed by the legislature redrawing the district boundaries in a supposedly bipartisan fashion. After the commission redraws the lines every ten years, they are sent to the state legislature for approval. The first-round proposal is the only amendment on the ballot to face opposition. The changes include boosting the number of state senators to the current 63, reducing the number of votes required to approve new constituencies when both houses of the Legislative Assembly are controlled by the same party, ensuring that New Yorkers undocumented migrants are taken into account in the redistribution and count of incarcerations persons at their last known address rather than at the location of their prison.
The proposal would also change the deadlines by which the Independent Redistribution Commission must submit its final maps to the state legislature for approval. The original deadlines, set in 2014 with a different amendment, were created when the state still had its primaries in September and would give candidates and voters little time before the election to learn their new constituency lines. “Personally, I aimed for January 1 – this is the new date for the referendum on the ballot,” David Imamura, chairman of the Independent Redistribution Commission, recently told City & State. “I think we should aim for that date whether the referendum is passed or not. He supports all aspects of the proposal, but said deadlines are the most pressing issue right now.
But the redistribution changes are not without their opponents, who say the changes are confusing for the average voter who is not deeply rooted in the process as it unfolds. “It just seems like we’re right in the middle of the process, and now we’re asking voters to pass a constitutional amendment to change the process,” said Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York, who opposes the proposal. She added that while she supported some aspects, like preventing gerrymandering in prisons and counting all people, the lack of education and the referendum schedule made no sense. She added that if the committee could do the cards earlier anyway, she saw no reason to support the amendment just for that reason.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York strongly rejected the opposition. “I think it’s pretty ironic that the people who pushed for the 2014 proposal, which was a lot more complicated and made much bigger changes and was a lot harder to understand, are now claiming it’s too complicated. “said Lerner. The Citizens’ Union and the League of Voters both supported the 2014 amendment, the result of negotiations between the then government. Andrew Cuomo and Republicans in the State Senate, who created the current bipartisan Redistribution Commission.
Regarding the lack of education, Oshiro of Make the Road said voter education was the core of the awareness campaign launched last week, and why his group in particular got involved to ensure that immigrants and non-native English speakers have the information they need before voting. “We know people will have a lot of questions about what questions one, three and four mean,” Oshiro said. “So at Make the Road, we’re doing community information sessions to explain what these proposals are. ”
Does ballot question # 1 make gerrymander easier?
Opponents also said the first proposal would again make the redistribution more partisan. Currently, when a single party (read Democrats) controls both the Senate and the State Assembly, a two-thirds majority is required to approve the new constituency lines. The question of the ballot would reduce this requirement to a simple majority, removing some voting power from the minority party (read Republicans). This simple majority becomes 60% if the commission does not agree on a single plan to send. It would also allow the two executive directors of the Independent Constituency Commission to be from the same party (again, pro-Democrats). “If this comes to pass, it would mean that a particular party that dominates in the Legislature could continue to do what happened before,” said Betsy Gotbaum, President of the Citizens’ Union, referring to the partisan politics that dominated the redistribution when Republicans controlled the State Senate. . “What we want is… there is no more of this gerrymandering.”
While Wilson has said the state should wait for the process to unfold to assess the success of the new bipartisan commission, Lerner has already declared it an unequivocal failure when he split across party lines and released two sets of draft cards last month. “The idea of a commissioner saying, ‘Oh, well, we’re going to meet this particular deadline,’ they can’t agree on nothing,” Lerner said. And on concerns about transferring too much power to one party, she said the current proposal only corrects the 2014 amendment that was written to favor Republicans by setting uniform standards for voting. (Under current rules, Republicans would need only a simple majority to approve new lines if they controlled the state Senate, while Democrats would need a two-thirds majority since they control both chambers.)
The second and fifth less controversial propositions
The last two ballot proposals received much less attention compared to those on voting and electoral reforms, although several people when launching the campaign for these proposals expressed support for the five proposals, and the Union of citizens and the League of Voters are opposed only to the question of redistribution. . The second question on the ballot would add a right to clean air, water and a healthy environment to the Bill of Rights of the state constitution, while the last would increase the jurisdiction of the civil court of the city of New York, which currently hears cases valued at $ 25,000 or less, to hear cases of $ 50,000 or less. While the environmental referendum is somewhat self-explanatory for those who support environmental and climate initiatives, the legal issue may be less so for those who do not need to go to court. Supporters say this is meant to prevent more people from needing to go to the state’s Supreme Court, which often means the case will take longer to resolve.
State Republicans oppose this year’s referendums, which were all passed by the State Legislature after losing control of the State Senate. On Monday, State GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy announced the launch of the Just Say No Campaign encouraging New York voters to reject the issue of redistribution. Former Rep. John Faso also spoke out against the three election proposals in a Newsday editorial.
But no matter where the different groups ultimately fall on the proposals, they share a message for voters: don’t forget to return your ballot on November 2 and vote on the five questions on the back.