Latest GLC Explainer Breaks Down NYS Voting Related Amendments on November Ballot

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When New York State voters go to the polls in November there will be three constitutional amendments on the ballot related to voting. The latest explainer from the Government Law Center (GLC) at Albany Law School breaks each one down.

One amendment focuses on the window of time within which a voter may register, the second addresses the ability to obtain an absentee ballot, and the third proposal would make changes to the process of the redistricting of the state’s legislative and congressional districts.

“The purpose of this explainer is to make sure that New Yorkers understand the choices they are being asked to make. It does not, in any way, suggest whether voters should vote yes or no on any of the proposals,” said author and GLC Legal Director Richard Rifkin.

If the amendments related to registration and absentee ballots pass they would not immediately go into effect. Instead, the state legislature would be empowered to make the changes to current law.

The registration amendment would authorize the legislature to allow New Yorkers same-day voting registration. Currently, New Yorkers must register at fixed times before Election Day to be able to vote. 

The absentee ballot amendment would authorize the elimination of all requirements (location, health status, etc.) for casting an absentee ballot and permit any voter to do so, a modification known as “no-excuse absentee voting.”

The third amendment, on redistricting in New York, is more complex.

In 2014, a voter-approved state constitutional amendment created an independent redistricting commission to draft initial maps after each census. However, while the 2014 amendment authorized the independent commission to draft the initial maps, it left the final approval of the maps with the legislature, which has always had that authority. That amendment also contained procedure and requirement details for this process, which is now underway. 

Now, the current amendment up for a vote contains several provisions. Many are technical changes, but high-impact modifications include:

  • Fix the number of NYS senate districts at 63. 
  • Require that population counts for state legislative redistricting take into account all residents, including non-citizens and Native Americans. 
  • Incarcerated people would be counted at their last residence rather than the location at which they are incarcerated. (This is the current rule for assembly and senate districts, but if the amendment is adopted, it would also be applicable to congressional districts.)
  • For adopting redistricting plans:
    • A plan by the independent commission must be approved by seven of its ten members
    • Any commission-approved plan must then be approved by a majority of each house of the state legislature and the governor to be adopted as the state’s plan. 
    • If no plan receives seven commission votes, the commission sends the legislature the plan(s) that received the most votes. Then a legislative vote of 60 percent is needed to approve a plan. 
    • If the commission fails to vote on any plan, it must send the legislature all plans, including draft plans, and the legislature may adopt a plan submitted with or without amendments.

If this amendment is adopted, it takes effect on January 1, 2022, which is before the independent re-districting commission is set to complete its work on the current redistricting process. Therefore, post-Jan. 1 operating rules of the current independent commission depend upon the outcome of the vote at November’s general election.

Rifkin concludes that, “Whether these constitutional amendments are approved will be a decision for the voters.”

The explainer is the latest in a series from the GLC that concisely map out the law that applies to important questions of public policy. The GLC has also created explainers on the federal Voting Rights Act, political redistricting in New York, immigration, aging, and policing policy.

Read the explainer here.