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New Yorkers will decide on 5 statewide ballot propositions

Alexander F. Yuan

When New Yorkers begin early voting on Saturday, their ballots will contain an unusually high number of propositions on issues from expanding voting access to whether everyone in the state should be guaranteed the right to clean air and water.

There are five statewide proposals, as well as many local issues, to be decided. Since many of them aren’t exactly clearly written, Jennifer Wilson with the League of Women Voters advised voters to do some research before going to the polls.

“We definitely recommend for this election that voters do their homework,” Wilson said. “Go to the poll (web) site, whether you are going to vote early or on Election Day. Know what these proposals are.”

The League has a special site, VOTE411.ORG, that explains each proposition and offers the pros and cons of each without taking sides. The state Board of Elections also has information.

Wilson walked through the five proposals, beginning with the first one, which would change New York’s redistricting process — and is a bit complicated. She said the key change is that the new process would strengthen the state Legislature’s power to draw new district maps every 10 years if the redistricting commission fails to agree on one set of maps.

“If the commission doesn’t agree, then we need 60% of the Legislature to vote in favor of the maps,” she said. “That is the most controversial piece of this entire amendment.”

She said the other changes are “pro forma” and include setting the number of state Senate districts permanently at 63 seats and speeding up the timeline for completing the maps so that they are done in time for petitioning for the June primary.

It’s the second time in a decade that voters will be asked to change redistricting rules. The current redistricting commission has five Democrats and five Republicans and is deadlocked. The members of each party have produced their own competing set of maps. Under the current rules, a supermajority of the Legislature, or potentially a court, could end up drawing the maps.

Proposition two, in comparison, seems much more straightforward. It would amend Article 1 of the state’s constitution to add a single sentence that would “establish the right of each person to clean air and water and a healthful environment.”

Wilson said while environmental groups support the measure, business organizations warn it could lead to messy lawsuits.

“Sure, that sounds great, and if you’re in favor of that, vote yes on this,” Wilson said. “But it is pretty loose language. We don’t define what 'healthful' means.”

Propositions three and four would expand voting access in New York. One would pave the way for same-day registration by eliminating the need to be registered at least 10 days before an election. The other would remove restrictions on absentee balloting that require someone to be ill or out of the state in order to request a ballot. That could clear roadblocks to universal mail-in voting.

The Legislature would have to pass additional laws in each case to fully enact same-day registration and a mail-in voting system.

Finally, proposition five would increase the threshold of monetary claims in cases heard by New York City’s civil courts from $25,000 to $50,000 to keep up with inflation over the past few decades. Even though the change would only affect New York City, because of quirks in the state’s constitution, everyone in New York State has to vote on it.

Depending on where you live, there may also be additional local ballot propositions on a wide range of issues, including building new roundabouts and widening roads, and altering residency rules for city council seats.

Wilson said there’s just one more thing to remember when voting on the proposals: Turn your ballot over to find them because they are printed on the back.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.