New Yorkers should vote yes on 1, 3, 4 for a stronger democracy | Opinion
Danielle Brecker, Special to the USA TODAY Network
While other state lawmakers are aggressively restricting access to the ballot and gerrymandering districts, New Yorkers have the opportunity to expand voting rights and enact a better redistricting process right now. New Yorkers can take back their voice and their power in our democracy and vote yes, on ballot proposals 1, 3, and 4.
In 2018, as a co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible, I canvassed for candidates and to get out the vote across New York state — including in Poughkeepsie, where I spoke to hundreds of New Yorkers.
People invited us in; listened to what we had to say; promised to vote; and thanked us for talking to them because no one else had bothered. Implicit in the thank you that we heard again and again in Poughkeepsie and across our state, was the feeling of New Yorkers that they had no voice or power in our democracy. They were disenfranchised by politicians picking their constituents via gerrymandering and antiquated voting laws that served only to limit, not expand voting access. They felt silenced.
Starting in 2019, as part of a statewide coalition, Empire State Indivisible worked to change this. We successfully advocated for the state voting reforms that have enabled more New Yorkers to have access to voting and to participate in our democracy, such as early voting. This is a good start, but there is much more to do. With proposals 1, 3, and 4 New York voters can lead the change. These proposals will help improve and bring fairness to the redistricting process, work to further expand and safeguard voting access, and help increase civic engagement.
Proposal 1 will result in districts that put New Yorkers before politicians. As originally intended in the U.S. Constitution, Proposal 1 will require that all New York residents regardless of citizenship status, be counted in the Census for the purposes of redistricting. While this is current practice in New York, this provision will clarify ambiguous language in the state constitution that could be interpreted in the future to draw district lines that exclude noncitizens. Similarly, while prison-based gerrymandering is barred by state law, Proposal 1 will codify this prohibition, ensuring that legislators cannot use incarcerated people as political pawns during redistricting by counting them where they are imprisoned rather than where they will next vote.
Freezing the number of State Senators before the next redistricting process is a crucial piece of proposal 1, as the Legislature has decided in the last 3 redistricting cycles to change the number of senators for partisan advantage. Without capping the number of State Senators at 63, the party in control could add an extra district and make it easier to gerrymander to their advantage. And crucially, because New York’s primaries were moved from September to June, if Proposal 1 does not pass, the timeline for finalizing maps will be out of sync with the election cycle. The maps wouldn’t be finalized before candidates decide to run and start circulating nominating positions in their actual districts in 2022.
Proposal 3 will pave the way to more accessible voting and higher voter turnout in New York. The most reliable way to increase voter turnout is with a combination of early voting and eliminating the unfair and unnecessary disenfranchisement that is caused by arbitrary voter registration deadlines. New York already has early voting, so now it’s time to eliminate voter registration deadlines and move one step closer to joining the 20 states and Washington, D.C. that already have same-day voter registration. New York has two different voter registration deadlines: the 10 day cutoff in the state constitution that Proposal 3 would eliminate, and the 25 day cutoff that is part of state law. The first step to doing away with voter registration deadlines is passing Proposal 3, which will eliminate the 10 day cutoff for voter registration in the state constitution.
Proposal 4 means absentee voting, no-excuse needed. The right to vote is an indispensable part of a healthy democracy, but New York has some of the most restrictive absentee voting laws in the country — you have to prove that you will be out of town, are too sick, or are taking care of somebody who is too sick to vote in person. Before the absentee voting requirements were temporarily loosened due to the pandemic, only 3–5% of voters met these extremely strict and unnecessary requirements. But with the temporary expansion of voting rights, more than 1 million New Yorkers cast their votes absentee in the 2020 election with no issue. And 34 states and Washington D.C. already have no-excuse absentee voting, with no evidence of widespread fraud. New Yorkers should vote yes on 4 to ensure that all voters have the opportunity to cast their vote absentee, and thus make voting more accessible and equitable.
Proposals 1, 3, and 4 offer a full-circle moment for those we spoke with who felt silenced and disenfranchised by policies that put politicians before everyday New Yorkers. Vote yes on proposals 1, 3, and 4 — it’s our chance to reclaim our voices and our power.
Danielle Brecker is co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible.