Officials split on special ballot proposals

New York voters will decide the fate of five special propositions on the statewide ballot on Election Day, Nov. 2. Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Officials are split on three of five special statewide propositions on the ballot this Election Day as advocates start to urge New Yorkers to approve proposals to remove voter registration deadlines, allow no-excuse absentee ballots and alter the state’s process to redraw election districts.

Voters will decide the fate of five propositions on the Nov. 2 ballot. The third and fourth proposals, respectively, would remove voter registration deadlines to allow same-day voting registration and permit any New York voter to request an absentee ballot without an explanation required under current law, such as location and health status.

“The time is now for voters to say yes to a stronger democracy and greater voting rights,” Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner said in a prepared statement.

The amendments related to voter registration and absentee ballots, if passed, will go before the state Legislature to make changes to current state law. They would not immediately go into effect.

Democracy advocates with Common Cause/NY, Make the Road New York and the NY Civic Engagement Table started a campaign this week to garner support for proposal Nos. 1, 3 and 4 before Election Day.

The first proposition would change the state’s redistricting process Jan. 1 — altering rules as the inaugural Independent Redistricting Commission works to alter two sets of draft maps for the 2022 election.

“Proposals 1, 3, and 4 are vital measures to enshrine expanded voting rights and a better redistricting process into our state Constitution,” Lerner said.

Voters will decide the fate of the first ballot proposal Nov. 2, to amend the state Constitution to cap the number of Senate seats at 63; require Congressional census apportionment data to count all New York residents, including non-citizens and Native Americans; to count incarcerated people at their last residence rather than the facility they are held in for congressional districts; require seven of 10 commissioners on the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission to approve of a plan to redraw Senate, Assembly and Congressional election districts, which must then be approved by a majority of each house of state Legislature and the governor, and in the case of no plan receiving seven votes, the Legislature will receive draft maps that received the most votes and must approve it with 60% support.

If the commission fails to vote on any set of maps, it must send all plans to the Legislature that lawmakers can adopt with or without amendments, under the first ballot proposal.

The commission will send its plans, with or without the proposal’s approval, to the Legislature in January.

“All New Yorkers have a right to be included in the decision-making processes that affect them and their communities, and their ability to vote should not be hindered by lack of time or by lack of access to absentee voting, especially as the pandemic continues,” Asian American Federation Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo said in a statement from the coalition of advocates campaigning for the proposals. “That is why by voting yes on ballot proposals 1, 3 & 4, our communities are joining the fight to build a New York that is equitable, fair and representative of the diverse communities that call this state home.”

Good-government groups have also been split on its potential impacts on state elective districts as Democrats hold a veto-proof supermajority in both the Senate and Assembly.

State Republican leaders are concerned the proposed changes will further partisan bias in the state’s redistricting process.

“If approved, this proposal would give Democrats wide latitude to draw and adopt district lines advancing their own partisan interests,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said in a statement Friday. “They are attempting to disregard the will of millions of New Yorkers who supported independent redistricting, and instead pick their voters behind closed doors. Top Democrats — including our new governor — haven’t hid the true goal of this amendment. A partisan redistricting process would allow them to increase their political power in Washington and Albany.”

The state New York Census and Redistricting Institute, within New York Law School, will hold a webinar at 4 p.m. Monday with panelists including Lerner from Common Cause NY, Jennifer Wilson with the state League of Women Voters and Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group to discuss all sides of proposal No. 1.

“There are three proposed amendments to our state’s Constitution that may seem innocuous, but they are cynical attempts by Albany’s ruling politicians to change elections forever,” Ortt said. “Voters should be very informed on amendments 1, 3, 4. Voters who support balanced government should take time to understand these proposals because they can completely change government.”

Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly also warned proposal nos. 3 and 4 could overwhelm local Boards of Election, potentially leading to election security issues and delaying outcomes.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, noted how about 20% of mail-in ballots were thrown out in the June 23, 2020 primary in New York City, and U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-22, defeated incumbent Democrat Anthony Brindisi by 109 votes in last year’s rematch — leading to ballot challenges and a legal process. The race was not determined until February.

“With the proposed ballot measures, liberals are opening the door for even more chaos than we’ve already seen,” Barclay said Friday.

“The statewide ballot proposals are concerning not only for what’s in them, but for the motivation behind them. On Proposal 1, Democrats are attempting to seize all control of the redistricting process and reverse needed reforms that voters approved in 2014. It’s a blatant political power grab. Their proposed changes to state elections will generate more dysfunction to a system that still needs fixing.

“On Nov. 2, voters should vote ‘No’ on these measures,” Barclay added.

If passed, the second proposal will amend the Bill of Rights Article I of the state Constitution to establish each person’s right to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment.

Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, co-sponsored the legislation to add the second proposition to the 2021 ballot and rallied with advocates from across the Hudson Valley in Kingston on Friday to encourage voters to approve it.

“Clean air and clean water are basic human rights, and yet, every day across our state, New Yorkers are left without access to these necessities,” Hinchey said. “For too long, we have treated our right to a healthy and safe environment as a privilege, and this November, we have a historic opportunity to change that by adding clean air and water rights to our state Constitution. ...I am honored to stand with a diverse coalition of partners as we continue to build a legacy of climate-forward progress in New York.”

The fifth proposed amendment would double the New York City Civil Court’s jurisdiction by allowing it to hear and decide claims up to $50,000, up from $25,000.

Early voting runs from Oct. 23-31.

For more information on the proposed amendments, visit www.elections.ny.gov/2021BallotProposals.html

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