The other side of the ballot

Posted 10/27/21

NEW YORK STATE — On Tuesday, November 2, elections will be decided across the state.

In the absence of races at the state or national level, local races and local issues will dominate the …

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The other side of the ballot

Posted

NEW YORK STATE — On Tuesday, November 2, elections will be decided across the state.

In the absence of races at the state or national level, local races and local issues will dominate the 2021 ballot. You can read about local candidates and their positions on the election section of this website.

But there are also five statewide ballot propositions to consider, propositions that can be found on the other side of the ballot from those all-important local elections.

It’s all in the details

The amendment put forward by Proposition 1 would change the process for redrawing the lines of the state’s electoral districts in a number of small yet significant ways.

The state’s constitution currently includes separate rules for if one party controls both the Assembly and the Senate, ensuring that both parties get a say in appointing the redistricting committee’s co-executive directors, requiring that redistricting plans have the approval of at least one committee member appointed by each party, and requiring a two-thirds approval vote from each house if the same party controls both.

The proposed amendment would eliminate that language from the constitution, keeping the procedure the same whether the same party controls both houses or not.

The amendment would also change a number of technical rules for the redistricting process itself. It would require the state to count non-citizens and Native Americans in the population totals it uses for redistricting, even if the federal census does not. It would establish that incarcerated persons be counted at the place of their last residence, rather than at the place of their incarceration. And it would remove the current “block-on-border” requirement for state senate districts, which prohibits splitting a town or a city block between two separate districts.

The right to a clean environment

Proposition 2 suggests adding an environmental amendment to the constitution’s Bill of Rights. The proposed article would read, “Environmental rights. Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

The amendment would strengthen efforts to protect the natural environment statewide, according to a fact sheet released by Green Amendments for the Generations: “Clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment are essential for supporting healthy human lives—including physical health, mental health, and economic health. Bill of Rights placement ensures the highest constitutional and legal protection.” (For more information, read the fact sheet at https://bit.ly/3mcmK1f.)

Having an environmental amendment included in the state constitution also provides legal recourse for communities, businesses and municipalities harmed by the a lack of environmental protection. Plaintiffs could cite this language if included in the Bill of Rights in cases against the government when it fails to construct or enforce proper environmental regulations.

How and when to vote

The third and fourth propositions on the ballot both make it easier for people to vote, each in a different way.

Proposition 3 suggests an amendment to the section of the constitution that concerns voting registration. As currently written, Article II, Section 5 states that voters shall be registered at least 10 days before the election in which they intend to vote. The proposed amendment would remove that requirement, letting the legislature pass laws that allow voters to register closer than 10 days to the election and paving the way to same-day voter registration.

Proposition 4 would amend the section of the constitution that regulates absentee voting. Article II, Section 2 of the constitution currently states that voters who are physically absent from their counties at the time of the election, as well as voters who are ill or disabled, can vote in the election through alternate means, such as absentee ballots. The proposed amendment would remove portions of that text from the constitution, allowing anyone to vote using an absentee ballot without an excuse.

Public opinion across the state appears split on these propositions. According to a study of 809 registered voters conducted by the Sienna College Research Institute, 55 percent of voters support no-cause absentee ballots (including 70 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans), while 35 percent oppose the measure; and 52 percent of voters support same-day registration (including 66 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans), while 39 percent oppose it.

New York City and its claims

Proposition 5 puts forward an amendment to increase the jurisdiction of the New York City Civil Court, allowing it to hear and decide claims of up to $50,000.

The court’s threshold was originally set at $10,000, and was raised to $25,000 through a constitutional amendment in 1983. An amendment to raise the limit to $50,000 was put to the ballot in 1995, but was rejected by voters at that time.

Raising the limit would both adjust for inflation and help relieve some of the burden on the New York State Supreme Court, allowing the civil court to hear cases that would otherwise have gone to the supreme court. The current amendment has unanimous support from state legislators, excluding those absent or abstaining.

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