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CNY Voters To Weigh In On Voting, Election Proposals This November

Picture of the sample ballot for the proposals
Onondaga County Board of Elections
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Onondaga County Board of Elections
Sample Ballot for the Proposals

Voters in Central New York will see more than just candidates for local office on the ballot this year.  There are also five statewide ballot proposals to amend the state constitution.  WAER News a closer look at the three proposals tied to voting and elections.

The first proposal has multiple parts to it. Some are pretty innocuous: capping the number of state senators, counting incarcerated people at their last residence for congressional races, and requiring non-citizens and Native Americans to be included in the state’s total population count.

But then there's the part about amending the redistricting process. Jenny Breen is Associate Professor of Law at Syracuse University. She says it can be a lot to digest.

“By throwing it all in there, they’re asking you to vote on a lot of things in one proposal,” Breen said.

That's even if you don’t know much about, understand, or agree with the most substantial one. Breen says the reapportionment amendment reduces legislative vote thresholds for approving the redrawn maps, making it a less bipartisan process.

"By removing those higher vote thresholds, it’s going to be easier for a single party to shove through the process. However, that is irrelevant right now because the democrats have supermajorities, and they could surpass even the higher threshold. But it’s really more something down the road.”

Many groups are endorsing the proposal as a whole, but not the League of Women Voters. Syracuse-area leaders say the redistricting changes spoil the rest of the amendment. Amanda Slisz says they’re trying to get the word out.

“It makes the redistricting process more partisan," Slisz said. "For us, that’s a problem. It decreases the participation of the minority party by taking their voting protections away and preventing the minority party from having input into the final proposed maps. While there are several good things about this amendment, it’s just not quite there, and the timing’s not right.”

League of Women Voters member Kim Margosian says the commission was created in 2014 and is just now getting to work based on the 2020 census data.

“Obviously, this is the first cycle the independent redistricting commission has been in place, so it’s still a whole new concept.”

“It really didn’t get to play through its full cycle,” Slisz chimed in. “We’re making a judgment on something we don’t really know or understand.”

They say that’s the other problem: most voters who see the brief description of the amendment on the ballot in the voting booth probably won’t fully grasp all of the details.

The two remaining voting and election-related proposals are more straightforward. Number three would eliminate the 10-day advance voter registration requirement. Breen said 20 other states have same-day voter registration.

“This amendment just enables the legislature to pass something like same-day voter registration if it wanted to," Breen said. "It does seem to increase turnout by about 5 percent, and it doesn’t seem to have any partisan effect on turnout.”

Slisz agrees.

“There are studies that show more voters are enfranchised by shortening or eliminating the deadline to register to vote," Slisz said. "In general, the states that have done it have no specific problems.”

Finally, ballot proposal number four would allow the authorization of no excuse absentee ballot voting. This is partly a result of the pandemic, but Amanda Slisz the fight goes back decades.

“It’s something that the League of Women Voters has been chipping away at for 50 years.”

Slisz says 34 other states don’t require an excuse to vote by absentee ballot. She listed the advantages that the proposal entails.

“It’s great for people with disabilities or language issues," Slisz said. "Being able to do it in your home, not stressed, and have help of a loved one or an aide could be very beneficial.”

She acknowledges, though, that assistance might raise questions about coercion. And, some Republicans continue to link voting by mail and same-day voter registration to election fraud.

Nevertheless, Breen says plenty of measures are in place to ensure voters and their ballots are legitimate.

“There is just no evidence of widespread voter fraud," Breen said. "That is not a thing that happens. It is being talked about to delegitimize our elections. It’s a very scary, dangerous thing.”

She says New York clearly isn’t breaking new ground by opening the door to same-day registration and no-excuse absentee ballots. But Breen says the ballot proposals are among a flurry of state laws nationwide regarding voting.

“There’s been a real divide," Breen said. "We have a group of states that are imposing really strict voter suppression laws designed to purge voters from rolls and make it harder for people to vote. And, we see another group of states that have been actively passing laws that make it easier to vote. So we are entering an era where your ability to vote will depend heavily on which state you live in.”

Breen stated that while New York hasn’t always been a leader in progressive election laws, the state does seem committed to increasing voter access.