Guest Spot: What are ballot propositions all about?

Don’t let the often-inscrutable ballot proposals dissuade you from deciding on them. And don’t approve any just because the wording seems sort of okay. The five proposals on the 2021 ballot, if passed, will all alter the New York State constitution. The results would be in place far longer than any candidate you vote for this year.  

Here, briefly and thus oversimplified, is what they’re about. For the wording on the ballot and a complete discussion of pros and cons, check out the League of Women Voters’  

Proposal 1 concerns the way that district lines for congressional and state legislative offices are redrawn following the federal census.  In a word: redistricting. 

Pros: Counts incarcerated individuals as living in their last address rather than in prison (currently a state law).  Requires counting of non-citizens and Native Americans if the census fails to include them. Simplifies and changes some of the partisan-based rules for commission and legislative voting procedures. Allows a greater timeline for candidates to collect signatures before district maps become law.  

Cons: Prevents the minority party from having a say on the final maps and empowers the party in power to decide many redistricting issues. 

Proposal 2 adds to the Bill of Rights the right of each person to clean air and water and a healthful environment.  

Pros: Requires all state and local governments and businesses to consider the environment in all decisions. Provides a way to combat inequities in exposure to pollutants in communities of color and low income. Puts New York on a par with Montana and Pennsylvania in recognizing these rights.

Cons: Overly broad language could encourage frivolous lawsuits. Gives courts too much flexibility in interpretation and enforcement. Could become an unfunded mandate.

Proposal 3 removes the requirement that voters must be registered at least 10 days before the vote.  

Pros: Encourages more citizens to exercise their legal voting rights. Would make it possible for New York to enact same-day voter registration, as have 20 other states.

Cons: Would complicate ability to gauge the number of ballots provided to polling places. Potentially increases opportunities for voter fraud.  

Proposal 4 would permit no-excuse absentee voting.

Pros: Allows any voter to request an absentee ballot, the means by which substantial numbers of people voted during COVID-19 voting and could again in another pandemic. Would align with rights accorded in 34 other states and Washington, D.C. Takes pressure off in-person voting sites.  

Cons: Offers no added measures for detecting voter fraud. Would cost more money to local municipalities. Could slow reporting of election results.  Would eliminate the civic experience of voting in person together.  

Proposal 5 would enable all New York City Civil Courts to hear and decide on cases up to $50,000, double the current limit. 

Pro: Would reduce backlog of cases. 

Con: Could increase the number of cases Civil, Housing, and Small Claims divisions would have to hear. 

Lois Morris is Vice President of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork.