The Breakdown: 2021 N.Y. Ballot Proposals

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Election Day 2021 is less than three weeks away and New Yorkers are facing more than just choosing candidates when they head to the polls in November. Every year there are a series of questions the voters get to voice their opinions on. Ultimately, these questions will be accepted or denied as amendments to the New York State Constitution. These questions begin in the N.Y. Assembly and Senate.

“The process requires the legislature to pass the question or amendment proposal in two concurrent legislatures,” Assemblymember Phil Palmesano told 18 News. “After that happens, it goes to the voters for their approval or denial.”

This years questions were proposed and passed by the Legislature in the 2019 and 2020 session. Now, they appear on the 2021 ballot. There are five proposals on the table this year, where New Yorkers have the direct power to make changes with the check of a box.

  • Amending the Apportionment and Redistricting Process
  • Right to Clean Air, Clean Water, and a Healthful Environment
  • Eliminating Ten-Day-Advance Voter Registration Requirement
  • Authorizing No-Excuse Absentee Ballot Voting
  • Increasing the Jurisdiction of the New York City Civil Court

“We’re being asked to make law instead of electing representatives to make the law on our names,” Professor Grant Reeher, faculty at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University, said.

New York’s redistricting process is at a standstill right now. In 2014, voters adopted an amendment, which eliminated partisan influence on the redistricting process. That law allows for a bipartisan commission to be created to develop redistricting maps. Once the maps were created, it would go to a vote in the Legislature and a two-thirds majority was needed to pass it. This year during the map drafting process, the commission was unable to come to an agreement on the two proposed maps: one proposed by the Democrats and one by the Republicans.

According to Assemb. Palmesano, the 2021 amendment would allow for partisan influence on this process. Simply put, the proposed amendment would change how the Redistricting Commission votes and only require a simply majority in the Legislature to pass new redistricting protocols.

“If one party controls the legislature, then all they need is a simple majority to approve the redistricting that would seem to strengthen partisan redistricting possibilities,” Professor Reeher added.

Several lobbyist groups have opposed this amendment, saying it creates partisan “gerrymandering”, including the Citizens Union and League of Women Voters.

Citizens Union recommends a no vote on Question 1, which would make changes to the redistricting process in New York State, just weeks before the constitutional deadline for drawing new legislative boundaries. This amendment contains a number of provisions, but Citizens Union is most concerned that it would remove the protections that ensure no one political party could dominate the redistricting process. 

Citizens Union

Other groups say this amendment is necessary to put districts first rather than politics.

This fall, New Yorkers can Vote Yes on three statewide ballot proposals for a stronger democracy while dramatically increasing our freedom to vote. While other states aggressively restrict access to the ballot, New York will send a message to the rest of the country, because everyone should have a say in New York.

Yes on 1, 3, 4 and Common Cause

Questions three and four have to deal with eliminating the voter registration requirement, which says voters must register 10 days prior to an election.

“It certainly could create a logistic issue. I think that the state board is going to have to obviously come up with guidelines,” Chemung County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Sperry Navone said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many states and counties turned to no-excuse absentee voting to ensure everyone could vote and feel safe while doing so. Chemung County received 7,000 mail-in ballots last year. Before COVID, the would average 2,000 per election year. This dramatic increase prepared the Board of Election for this potential change.

“If we are tasked with that responsibility, we’re going to fulfill it,” Commissioner Navone said.

29 states and the District of Colombia have no-excuse absentee voting and five states have all-mail elections. New York would be catching up to some of the bigger states, according to Professor Reeher.

“It gets us closer to basically allowing anyone to mail their vote down, which is again what a lot of other states have done,” Professor Reeher continued.

While people may disagree on the questions and the results, our experts agree that voting in this election is just as important as ever before.

“Make sure your voice is heard and please vote,” Assemb. Palmesano concluded.

Voters can request an absentee ballot until Monday, October 18. Early voting begins October 23 and runs through October 31 at select polling locations. Election Day is November 2 and to find a polling place near you click here.

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