Voters Say “Yes” on Ballot, Now What?

At least one in every five voters did not vote on the three amendments to the state’s constitution on Tuesday’s ballot, according to official election results. The number seems unimportant at first glance until you translate one-in-five to 20 percent.

Two of the three proposals were passed with less than twenty percent of voters, meaning if the absent one-fifth had chosen to vote on those proposals, the outcome could have been much closer, or potentially different altogether.

The outcome isn’t much different than last year’s casino amendment. The proposal, to approve four casinos in three regions in New York, passed by about 393.5 thousand votes, but more than 500 thousand voters chose not to weigh in.

It should be said as well that these numbers reflect the voters who actually made it to the polls. According to the BOE, there are almost 11 million active, registered voters in New York State. Of those 11 million, only about 3.7 million went out to vote this year leaving turnout hovering around a third of registered voters.

That’s up ever so slightly from last year’s near 30 percent, but down drastically from around 60 percent in 2012.

Regardless, voters in New York have approved this year’s round of proposed ballot amendments, so what’s next for proposals one, two, and three?

Proposal One will not actually require action until after the 2020 census in New York. That census will determine the state’s population and therefore number of required State Senate and Assembly (and Congressional) districts required under state law.

Proposal One creates a 10-person redistricting commission to draw those districts. After the census, legislative leaders will appoint eight of the ten people sitting on the commission. Those eight would then appoint the last two.

Currently, the legislature draws the state’s districts. Because they will now appoint the majority of the commission’s members, critics of Prop One have said the process will be no more independent than it currently is. However, the amendment does have language in place to at least attempt to stray away from bias.

Members of the commission can not be married to a statewide or federal official, can not be a registered lobbyist in either New York or Washington, D.C., and can not have served in the state legislature in the past three years. Of course, this opens the door to former lawmakers who have been out of the state legislature for some time.

Proposal Two is much simpler. The proposal authorizes bills to be electronically sent to members of the legislature. Currently, bills must be physically printed and placed on lawmakers’ desks in order to start the three-day aging process. Now, electronic receipt of the bill will count instead.

Proposal Three allows the state to use $2 billion in bond-funded money to enhance technology in public (and non-public) school districts. The language of this bill indicates that it will take effect immediately after being approved by voters. If you’re curious about how much a certain school district is expected to get, you can find that here.

But what about non-public schools? The proposal actually acknowledges that as well, saying that school districts are required to make funding available to non-public schools in their district, depending on enrollment.

That funding, however, is capped at $250 per non-public student.

Tkaczyk Will Vote Against Redistricting Amendment

From the Morning Memo:

When Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk enters the voting booth next week, she plans to vote against the amendment designed to change the state’s redistricting process.

“I am not voting for it, I’m voting no,” she said in a Capital Tonight interview. “It was one of the first bills I actually voted on when I finally got seated and I found it very ironic here I was in a gerrymandered district that had been drawn by for Republican Party and here I was voting for this and I stood up and said I don’t support this because it enshrines our gerrymandered districts in the constitution and it’s not an independent panel.”

Tkaczyk, a freshman Democrat running a hotly contested race against Republican former Assemblyman George Amedore, has often called herself the poster-child for redistricting reform.

The Senate district she represents stretches from the Mohawk Valley down through the Hudson Valley and was added two years ago essentially for Amedore.

The redistricting measure is aimed at changing the process to allow for a lawmaker-appointed panel to draw the boundaries rather than have state lawmakers do it themselves directly.

The proposal has split good-government groups. Citizens Union says the proposal has enough safeguards built in to be an effective reform, while also being the best shot at changing the system in decades.

But other groups, like Common Cause, say the amendment is anything but a reform for the better since it still vests power in state lawmakers.

Citizens Union Debuts Pro-Prop. 1 Video

Citizens Union, the good government group that has been the driving force behind the movement to get a constitutional redistricting amendment passed next month, is releasing a new video explaining its position and urging New Yorkers to vote “yes” on Prop. 1.

The video is serving as a fund-raising tool. It was forwarded to Citizens Union supporters in an email yesterday, and the organization’s executive director, Dick Dadey, urged recipients to watch and then make a “much-needed contribution” to help get the video distributed statewide.

“You and I know that we must seize this chance to unrig the system, take power back, and for the first time in history hold the Legislature accountable on redistricting,” Dadey wrote.

“Prop. 1 forever bans the drawing of unfair districts that favors incumbents, discourages challengers, and protects majority party control in gerrymandering.”

“Opponents want to defeat Prop 1 by any means necessary for the false promise of something better down the road. Their cynical message dooms New York to years more of partisan gridlock and uncompetitive elections.”

“Remember, we had 87 percent of legislators – 184 out of 212 – say to New Yorkers in 2010 that they would create a fair redistricting process for the 2012 elections. What happened? Nothing. Talk about same old, same old.”

Dadey makes no mention in his email of the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised repeatedly – starting during his 2010 campaign for governor – that he would veto any redistricting plan that was drawn up in the standard, politically-controlled manner.

But Cuomo caved on that promise, signing off on the legislative leaders’ highly gerrymandered Senate and Assembly lines in exchange for their support of the constitutional amendment that has now twice been passed by separately elected Legislatures and will be left for the voters to decide.

Cuomo has said he supports Prop. 1, but he has yet to do any campaigning – or direct any cash – for the effort to get it passed.

This stands in stark contrast to last year’s pro-casino amendment effort, which included a statewide ad campaign paid for by a statewide coalition of business and labor groups (many, but not all, of which are now supporting Cuomo for re-election).

Prop. 1 has divided good government groups, with some even going to court to get the word “independent” struck from the ballot language describing the new commission that would be set up to take a first crack at redistricting if voters approve the amendment.

And earlier this week, the NAACP came out against Prop. 1, calling it “fake redistricting reform.”

NAACP Opposes Redistricting Amendment

The NAACP is urging voters to reject the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would change the redistricting process.

NAAC NY President Hazel Dukes in a statement said the amendment — which shifts the process away from state lawmakers to a panel appointed by state lawmakers — is “fake redistricting reform.”

“For decades, the NAACP has led the fight against lawmakers who have tried to suppress our civil rights through the redistricting process,” Dukes said. “This proposed commission does not reflect the will of the voters: it would only be a proxy for the Legislature which has manipulated us for far too long. We deserve better than the same old Albany status quo. On November 4th, vote no!”

The redistricting amendment is the product of a 2013 compromise between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly.

Cuomo approved the Legislature’s redistricted maps for Senate and Assembly seats, while lawmakers backed the amendment, along with a package of bills the governor had sought that legislative session.

The amendment has stirred controversy within the good-government community as well.

Citizens Union supports the amendment, saying the process of allowing lawmakers to draw their own boundaries cannot continue to stand as it is, and the proposal creates enough safeguards against legislative meddling.

On the other side is Common Cause, which points to the lingering influence of state lawmakers through the redistricting panel.

A state Supreme Court judge, meanwhile, last month ruled the amendment ballot language should not describe the proposal as creating an “independent” commission, forcing the state Board of Elections to strike out the word.

Citizens Union Report Touts Redistricting Amendment (Updated)

A report of Citizens Union on Wednesday touts the benefits an amendment aimed at changing the state’s redistricting process, arguing that its passage would lead to increased competition in elections and end a partisan process of drawing legislative boundaries.

The amendment, due to go before voters on Election Day, is aimed at removing the process from state lawmakers and in to the hands of a commission appointed by the Assembly and Senate.

The measure has divided the good-government groups, with some pointing to the lingering legislative influence in the proposal.

But Citizens Union says the measure is the best chance to fix the system that has kept incumbents or their parties in the Assembly and Senate in power.

“The 2012 redistricting process was business as usual in Albany, with the majority parties controlling the process and lines being drawn for partisan purposes rather than in the best interests of voters, with greater candidate choice and more contested elections,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “This report confirms that the Legislature again used the process in 2012 to keep its stranglehold on power. New Yorkers now have the opportunity to fix this rigged system and hold legislators accountable by voting Yes for Proposal 1 on November 4th. This state constitutional amendment will ban partisan gerrymandering by outlawing legislative maps drawn for political advantage.”

The report released today by Citizens Union found the rate of re-election for incumbents would be lower and open the elections to more candidates, thus ensuring increased competition in state races.

If approved, the redistricting amendment’s changes would take effect for the next round of redistricting in 2022.

Updated: Common Cause’s Susan Lerner takes a different view, noting the recent court ruling that removed the word “independent” from the ballot language before voters when it came to describing the new redistricting commission.

“Spin it anyway you like, but after the judge’s ruling, it’s impossible to claim that Proposition 1 would “unrig” the system. New Yorkers understand that this proposed commission would actually make a bad situation worse.”

CU Report Rigged to Maintain Power by Nick Reisman

Conservative Party Backs Redistricting Amendment

The state Conservative Party is supporting the amendment that would change the redistricting process for state legislative and congressional districts.

In a memorandum released on Wednesday, the party points to a number of features in the amendment that are aimed at making the process a fairer one, including prohibitions against drawing districts favoring a political party and blocking the Legislature from altering the redrawn map once it is submitted for a vote.

Still, the redistricting amendment is causing some controversy this election season.

Some good-government groups say the proposal does not go far enough in removing the process out of lawmakers’ hands, who in the past have been able to draw legislative boundaries with an eye toward protecting their majorities.

In particular, Common Cause has taken issue with the initial description of the process being “independent” in the ballot language before voters, considering lawmakers can appoint members to the redistricting commission.

The “independent” description was later removed from the ballot proposal.

Still, other good-government organizations like Citizens Union say the amendment represents the best possible safeguard against legislative meddling in the process.

The next round of redistricting is slated for 2022, based on the 2020 census.

Teachout Urges ‘No’ Vote on Redistricting Amendment

After her better-than-expected (but not enough to win) showing in last week’s Democratic primary, Zephyr Teachout appears determined to keep her finger in New York politics, issuing a statement today urging voters to reject the constitutional amendment that will change the redistricting process.

Teachout deemed state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath’s ruling that the amendment could not claim to set up an “independent” redistricting commission “spot (on)”, saying the body will actually be “a proxy for the same kind of partisanship that has corrupted our politics.”

“Only in Albany would ‘independent’ mean ‘appointed by the Legislature,'” Teachout continued. “The governor knows this is a ridiculous proposal, and the courts have defined it as a continuation of the status quo.

Meaningful redistricting reform is only possible if we stand up for the government we want, not settle for the fake reform our government is willing to give us. On November 4th, New Yorkers should reject Proposition 1 for the false choice it is.”

Prop. 1 as this constitutional amendment is known, has divided the good government community, with some – like Common Cause NY, which was part of the lawsuit that challenged the amendment’s wording – saying that the changes it makes will only make things worse.

It remains to be seen whether Teachout has the power to motivate her supporters on issues other than her own gubernatorial run.

In an interview with the NY Post, the Fordham Law professor, who returned to the classroom the day after her primary loss, said she has been bitten by the politics bug and may run for a citywide or statewide office in the future. She also said she’s not likely to issue an endorsement in the governor’s race before the November general election.

Citizens Union On Redistricting Ruling: Word ‘Independent’ Is Immaterial (Updated)

A memorandum from the good-government group Citizens Union released on Thursday argues that while much of the focus on yesterday’s court ruling calling on the state Board of Elections removed the word “independent” from the redistricting amendment ballot language, much of the proposal was upheld.

The debate over the amendment, which would change the redistricting process ahead of the next round of new district mapping in 2022, would take the process out of the hands of state lawmakers.

Some good-government groups argue that the proposed change is cosmetic and still keeps redistricting in the hands of lawmakers, who have power over commission appointees.

But Citizens Union argues in its memo that the state Supreme Court actually agreed with key provisions of the proposal.

“In addition, the court agreed that the voting requirement for approval of a proposed redistricting plan “stands as a safeguard against one party dominance in redistricting” decisions, which is an essential element of a fair and impartial process,” Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey wrote.

Whether the word “independent” being included or not isn’t really the heart of the matter and the ruling doesn’t change the “substance” of what is before voters, Dadey wrote.

“Whether the commission is called “independent” or not is immaterial. Wednesday’s decision in no way changes the substance of the amendment, which bans partisan gerrymandering. We urge all New Yorkers to vote for progress on Election Day by voting yes on Prop 1,” he wrote.

UPDATE: Common Cause NY, which was among the parties that sued over the amendment’s wording and declared victory after yesterday’s ruling, issued the following statement from its executive director, Susan Lerner:

“Spin it anyway you like, but after the judge’s ruling, there really isn’t any denying that Proposition 1 is not what it claims to be. New Yorkers understand that this proposed commission would make a bad situation worse.”

“The Judge’s ruling is crystal clear: ‘the Commission’s plan is little more than a recommendation to the Legislature which can reject it for unstated reasons and draw its own lines.’ In no uncertain terms, the Judge found that: “The plan can be rejected for the purely partisan reasons that this Commission was designed to avoid.’ On November 4th, Voters should reject Proposition 1 for the false choice it is.”

Interested Parties Memo – Court Decision on Redisricting by Nick Reisman

Judge Tosses ‘Independent’ Redistricting Language

A state Supreme Court judge on Wednesday struck down proposed language for the upcoming redistricting amendment before voters in November, saying in a ruling that the measure is inaccurately described as “independent.”

In the ruling, Judge Patrick McGrath found the language was misleading since the proposed commission “cannot be described as ‘independent’ when eight out of the ten members are the handpicked appointees of the legislative leaders and the two additional members are essentially political appointees by proxy.”

If approved, the new redistricting process would take effect in 2022, when the new state Assembly, Senate and Congressional district lines are drawn based on the 2020 Census.

A challenge surfaced to the redistricting language earlier this month, when plaintiffs, including Neil Steiner, a litigation partner at Dechert LLP, argued the state Board of Elections included loaded and confusing language.

The redistricting amendment has split the state’s good-government groups: Citizens Union, for instance, has said the proposal far removes the redistricting process from the hands of state lawmakers. In an amicus brief filed this month, the group argued the proposal has a “wide range of procedures to ensure an open public process for arriving at a redistricting plan and an expedited legal review for its citizens.”

In a statement, Citizens Union called the amendment a chance for “real reform” at the state’s Capitol.

“This amendment creates an open and fair redistricting process that works in the interests of New Yorkers by creating a commission that takes drawing lines for political advantage out of the process, ensuring that district lines are not drawn to favor incumbents or to discourage competition and, for the first time, ensuring that the public has a say in the redistricting process,” said Dick Dadey, the group’s executive director. “On November 4th, all voters should vote yes for progress.”

The group also argues that enshrining the changes in the state’s constitution makes for an even more enhanced reform.

But McGrath found the proposal itself is “little more than a recommendation to the Legislature which can reject it for unstated reasons and draw its own lines.”

The redistricting amendment is the product of a compromise from March 2012 between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers.

For Common Cause, which opposes the amendment, the ruling today is a victory.

“Common Cause/NY is grateful for the Court’s common sense ruling: the redistricting commission cannot be described as independent because it isn’t. As the Judge made clear, this Commission would only be a proxy for the Legislature. Voters deserve the same straight talk when they go to cast their ballot in November. Common Cause/NY will be urging voters not to be fooled and to reject Proposition 1 on Election Day,” said Susan Lerner, the group’s executive director.

At the time, Cuomo had threatened to veto any legislative boundaries drawn by state lawmakers. Ultimately, state lawmakers agreed to an amendment to change the process in the next round in addition to a package of unrelated measures that were sought by the governor.

It’s not unusual for concerns to be raised over constitutional amendment ballot language: Last year, good-government groups blasted a proposal to expand casino gambling in New York for overly rosy language. The amendment passed.

Redistricting Decision by Nick Reisman

Common Cause: BOE Acknowledges Non-Independence Of Redistricting Commission

The opponents of a ballot proposition that would create a new process for redistricting argue that the state Board of Elections in court documents filed this month acknowledged the new structure isn’t independent as claimed by supports.

Common Cause’s Susan Lerner, along with other opponents of the redistricting ballot language, are challenging the wording in state Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard today in Albany.

For Common Cause, the problem stems from the language in the ballot proposition describing the proposed commission that would drive the next round of redistricting in 2022 as “independent” when it is appointed by state lawmakers.

Proponents of the change, including the good-government group Citizens Union, argue that the process will be independent, considering no state lawmakers are actually sitting on the panel drawing the boundaries.

But Susan Lerner, Common Cause’s executive director, along with other plaintiffs challenging the language, points to court filings from the Board of Elections that suggests the panel isn’t meant to be free of legislative influence:

“they admit that the purpose is to protect the minority party in each house,” the opponents argued this week in a court filing. “By definition, favoritism towards the minority party is not independent. Thus, if Respondents want the commission approved, voters are entitled to know, and Respondents are required by law to share, the true purpose of the Redistricting Amendment.”

State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McGrath is expected to issue an order next week in the Article 78 proceeding.

Voters are due to vote on the redistricting amendment to the state constitution in November.

Reply Memorandum of Law in Support of Petition 2 2 by Nick Reisman