CITIZENS UNION RECOMMENDATIONS
New York voters will find three ballot proposals on the 2014 general election ballot. Please note that your paper ballot is two-sided: on the front are contests for elected officials, and on the back are the proposals to amend the NYS Constitution and to approve budget allocations.
For more information about the ballot questions, including arguments in favor and against, see the Campaign Finance Board Voter Guide, available at www.nyccfb.info, and the League of Women Voters NYS Voters Guide, available at www.lwvny.org. The full text of the proposals can be found on the New York State Board of Elections website at www.elections.ny.gov.
Please remember to turn your ballot over to vote on the proposals.
PROPOSAL ONE – REVISING STATE’S REDISTRICTING PROCEDURE
Text of Ballot Question
The proposed amendment to sections 4 and 5 and addition of new section 5-b to Article 3 of the State
Constitution revises the redistricting procedure for state legislative and congressional districts. The proposed amendment establishes a redistricting commission every 10 years beginning in 2020, with two members appointed by each of the four legislative leaders and two members selected by the eight legislative appointees; prohibits legislators and other elected officials from serving as commissioners; establishes principles to be used in creating districts; requires the commission to hold public hearings on proposed redistricting plans; subjects the commission’s redistricting plan to legislative enactment; provides that the legislature may only amend the redistricting plan according to the established principles if the commission’s plan is rejected twice by the legislature; provides for expedited court review of a challenged redistricting plan; and provides for funding and bipartisan staff to work for the commission. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
Citizens Union Statement of Support
For more than 50 years, New York elected officials have controlled the redistricting process, drawing unfair district lines that protect them from challengers and eliminate fair, competitive elections. Proposal 1 gives New Yorkers the opportunity to fix this rigged system, hold legislators accountable to the voters, and create an open and fair redistricting process.
The state constitutional amendment put forth in Proposal 1 will ban partisan gerrymandering by outlawing legislative maps drawn for political advantage, with an explicit directive that lines shall not be drawn to favor incumbents or political parties. This change will address the problem of incumbent protection in New York State, where incumbents win re-election 97% of the time. Competitive elections will attract better candidates and start to change the culture of Albany, where 28 legislators have been forced from office in recent years due to corruption or ethical scandals while 3 others are currently under indictment.
Proposal 1 also curbs legislators’ unchecked power to draw their own district lines by establishing a politically balanced commission. The commission consists of 10 members with significant bans on who can serve to eliminate conflicts of interest. No legislators, lobbyists, or other political figures can serve as commissioners. Unlike the current system, no one leader, no one house, and no one party controls the process or outcome.
If the legislature TWICE fails to approve the commission’s plan, it can’t just start over. It must then work from the commission’s plan to develop a plan that must comply with the new rules and standards established in the state constitution and no one district’s population can be changed by more than 2% according to a new law that was passed with the amendment.
Any plan approved by the commission must have a supermajority of 7 out of 10 members vote in favor, ensuring balance and cooperation. Additional controls are in place to require a higher threshold for approval in the legislature should one party control both houses, a further check against lines drawn for political advantage.
Additionally, voting yes on Proposal 1 would codify national Voting Rights Act language in the state constitution. At the federal level, the Voting Rights Act has faced challenges in recent years, and the protection it affords to minority groups is being chipped away. By putting these protections in the state constitution, New York State law will require that maps be drawn to preserve communities of interest and protect minority groups’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.
The amendment also requires that the commission release data, maps and information to the public to allow it to develop alternative proposals, and requires 12 public hearings be held throughout the state.
The current redistricting rules are weak and vague. By passing Proposal 1, New Yorkers can strengthen the redistricting process with powerful guidelines and clear standards to protect voters. The comprehensive redistricting reforms in Proposal 1 work together to ban partisan gerrymandering and empower New Yorkers to finally hold their legislators accountable.
We urge all New Yorkers to vote for progress on Election Day by voting yes on Proposal 1.
PROPOSAL TWO – PERMITTING ELECTRONIC DISTRIBUTION OF STATE LEGISLATIVE BILLS
Text of Ballot Question
The proposed amendment to section 14 of Article 3 of the State Constitution would allow electronic distribution of a state legislative bill to satisfy the constitutional requirement that a bill be printed and on the desks of state legislators at least three days before the Legislature votes on it. It would establish the following requirements for electronic distribution: first, legislators must be able to review the electronically-sent bill at their desks; second, legislators must be able to print the bill if they choose; and third, the bill cannot be changed electronically without leaving a record of the changes. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
Citizens Union Statement of Support
Citizens Union supports Proposal 2, which would simplify and modernize the legislative process by providing members of both houses with the option to receive bills electronically rather than in print. The electronic option requires a change in the state constitution, which currently requires that bills be in printed format on individual legislators’ desks.
Under the current provisions of the state constitution, a bill in the New York State Senate or Assembly cannot be passed or become law unless it has been printed and placed upon the desks of the members, in its final form, at least 3 calendar legislative days prior to its final passage. The requirement for legislation to be available for 3 days prior to passage would not change under the proposed amendment.
The current printing process requires a considerable amount of legislative staff time, paper, and money. The amendment would reduce these costs by modernizing the distribution process, allowing bills to be available on legislators’ desks via a computer. While there will be an initial cost of installing computer systems in the assembly and state senate chambers, this will be offset by the subsequent savings in printing costs. Citizens Union is also supportive of the amendment’s potential to allow for more meaningful review of legislation. These benefits would be particularly significant when legislators vote on budget bills due to their voluminous size, as electronic versions of legislation will be searchable.
PROPOSAL THREE – SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014
Text of Ballot Question
The SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014, as set forth in section one of part B of chapter 56 of the laws of 2014, authorizes the sale of state bonds of up to two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000) to provide access to classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, to add classroom space to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, to replace classroom trailers with permanent instructional space, and to install high-tech smart security features in schools. Shall the SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014 be approved?
Citizens Union has not evaluated this proposal.