New Yorkers began casting their ballots last Saturday and some of the most important decisions appear on the back of the ballot. There voters will find five proposals to change the New York State Constitution. While important ballot proposals may be on your local village, town, city or county ballot, four of these statewide proposals could have profound impacts on New York’s democracy and its environment.
Here’s a look at the statewide proposals:
Proposal #1: This proposal addresses New York State’s redistricting process – the process whereby congressional and state legislative district boundaries are adjusted to account for population shifts. This amendment updates the state’s Constitution, eliminates unfair or unconstitutional provisions, and adds new measures to strengthen the redistricting process.
The proposal caps the number of senate districts at 63, removes a 1894 rule so cities and towns are on equal footing in senate line drawing and removes “dead wood” provisions long ruled unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The proposal also addresses timetable issues – the Constitution was based on state primaries in September, they are now held in June. Supporters argue that this amendment improves the state’s redistricting process. Opponents argue that the changes to the Redistricting Commission’s voting rules hurt Republicans.
Proposal #2: This proposal addresses the state’s environment. There can be no doubt that New York’s natural environment is under siege, threatening the state’s precious ecology and human health. Recent examples include drinking water contamination uncovered in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh, and on Long Island. Many other communities across the state suffer from threats posed by multiple pollution sources, particularly in communities of color and/or low-income areas.
While New York has been a leader in environmental preservation, environmental health, and environmental justice, in key respects the lack of constitutional recognition of this fundamental right is glaring. Six states—Illinois, Pennsylvania, Montana, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Rhode Island—have environmental protection planks in their constitutions.
Supporters argue that elevating the right to clean air and water and a healthful environment to a constitutional protection will help ensure that New Yorkers have a basis in which to protect themselves, their families, and communities. Opponents argue that it will lead to an explosion of lawsuits.
Proposal #3: This proposal addresses New York’s voter registration deadlines. The state’s voting rates are lower than the national average. The state’s antiquated system of voter registration is a relic of a bygone era, perpetuating the re-election of incumbents and limiting voter participation. This proposal, if approved, would allow—but not require—legislation to give New Yorkers the right to register and vote on the same day. States that have same-day or no registration systems have among the highest voter participation rates in the nation.
Supporters argue that often elections capture public interest only when the election is close at hand, past the current registration deadline. Opponents argue that this proposal will add too much work for elections officials and that fraud may occur.
Proposal #4: This proposal addresses greater use of absentee, mail in, ballots. The state Constitution places restrictions on New Yorkers applying for an absentee ballot. New York’s experience with the pandemic-inspired “no-excuse ballot by mail” underscores the benefits of allowing voters to mail in their ballots instead of going to the polls: e.g., safer for voters and poll workers, more convenient for voters with physical limitations, and reduced voter traffic at early voting and election day polling sites. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia permit any qualified voter to vote absentee without offering an excuse.
Supporters argue that allowing voters an easy opportunity to vote through the mail is an important way to make civic participation easier in the modern age. Opponents argue that this proposal makes it too easy for fraud to occur.
Proposal #5: This proposal pertains to the New York City civil court system and would increase the court’s monetary jurisdiction from claims up to $25,000 to claims of no more than $50,000. Supporters argue that this limit was set in 1983 and should be adjusted upwards to account for inflation.
When it comes to changing the state Constitution, voters get the final say. Don’t forget to flip over your ballot and make sure your voice is heard.