SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — With seven days to go before Election Day, central New Yorkers are making their final decisions over the direction they want their local governments to go.
The front of the ballot has attracted a lot of attention –– the side which contains all the candidates running for elected office. In Syracuse, the marquee race on the front of the ticket is the three-way mayoral election. That contest has attracted much press and several debates in recent weeks.
But what people may not have heard too much about is that you vote for more than just people in the November election.
Flip the ballot to the back side and you’ll find five questions. These five yes-or-no statewide votes are opportunities for New Yorkers to amend the state’s constitution, paving the way for new laws.
The first measure involves a slew of changes to the state’s process for redistricting. If the proposal receives a majority of votes next Tuesday, New York would:
1. Cap the number of New York state senators to 63. Limiting the number would prevent the addition of new members by the majority to boost their political power
2. Require that incarcerated people be counted for redistricting by their previous address instead of the location of their jail or prison
3. Speed up the timeline for submitting redistricting plans to the state legislature by two weeks
4. Alter the number of votes needed to approve districting plans when one political party controls both of the state’s legislative houses
The second proposal, which took over a decade to land on the ballot, makes a direct change to the state’s constitution by adding new environmental protections for individuals. The question asks voters “to protect public health and the environment by adding the right of each person to clean air and water and a healthful environment to the Bill of Rights.”
Some environmental groups see the language as just broad enough where it would provide legal backing for individuals to contest ecological degradation by the government and businesses.
Others, like environmental engineer Libby Ford, say the proposal’s ambiguous language will cause an unnecessary delay.
“It’s probably going to be four or five years of court cases before we really know what the amendment means,” Ford said.
Amendments three and four cover changes to the process of voting itself.
Passing the third referendum will allow the state to adopt same-day voter registration, dropping the current ten-day requirement. In essence, people who forget to register before Election Day would, under this amendment, be able to both register and vote the day-of.
After a surge in popularity during the last presidential election, supporters of the fourth ballot measure want to ensure that mail-in voting outlives the pandemic that made it so popular.
Currently, New York requires people to submit an excuse in order to cast their ballot by mail. For over a year, fear of contracting COVID-19 has been deemed a valid reason by county boards of elections.
Proposal four is looking to change the state’s rules surrounding mail-in ballots. Were it to pass, this measure would pave the way for New York to adopt full, no-excuse absentee voting by the 2022 midterm elections.
While these proposed changes are likely to add more logistical hurdles to those who process ballots and voter registrations, Dustin Czarny, Onondaga County’s Elections Commissioner, believes the changes are for the better.
“Yes, it would mean more work for the boards of elections. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing.Early voting is more work. A lot of reforms that are pro-voter reforms means more work for us,” Czarny said. “What this will do is give options to the voters and that is something that personally I’m always for, but it’s up to the voters to decide whether they want to be for this or not.”
Lastly, the fifth ballot measure, while not explicitly connected to central New York, could have a ripple effect across the state’s entire court system. The final proposal is an amendment to the state’s constitution that would allow New York City to lift the monetary limit on the city’s civil court claims from $25,000 to $50,000. Proponents say the proposal will reduce the caseloads faced by higher courts, and overall make the judicial system more efficient.
These five proposals can be found on the back of any ballot in Onondaga County. The final day to vote early in Syracuse is on October 31, at 3 p.m.