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Blair Horner: A Voters Guide For Election Day 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 is Election Day. On this year’s ballot, in addition to the candidates who are running for office, New Yorkers have the opportunity to vote on two proposed changes to the New York State Constitution and a bond act.

Here is a look at those three questions with arguments in support of and in opposition to the changes (you can see the full text of the questions at the New York State Board of Elections, www.elections.ny.gov/ProposedConsAmendments2.html

Proposal One: Revising State's Redistricting Procedure
This question has been the most controversial of the three. Under the redistricting process, the legislature is responsible for drawing the lines and legislators constitute the majority of the commission that drafts new district lines.

Under the proposed amendment to the State Constitution a new commission is created. The amendment would prohibit certain individuals from serving on the commission, including: elected officials and their spouses, legislative staff, lobbyists, other public officials, and political party chairs. The plans developed by this new commission will be subject to approval by the legislature. However, if the legislature rejects the Commission’s proposal, the legislature drafts its own lines.

Proponents of the amendment argue that this will create a fairer redistricting process that bans political gerrymandering, has a clear timeline, creates new opportunities for public participation and that the legislature does not have a ‘free hand’ in amending the commission’s plans. Proponents further argue that composition of the proposed commission is a significant improvement because it prohibits those with conflicts of interest, including legislators, from serving on the commission.

Opponents of the amendment object to the fact that eight of the ten commissioners are appointed by legislative leaders, and are critical of the legislature’s power to amend the plans if they fail to achieve legislative approval after two votes. They argue that this is the equivalent of the legislature drawing its own lines since the Commission’s plans are ultimately approved by the legislature. In addition, opponents object to the proposal’s requirement that future mapmakers must consider the core of existing districts when drafting new ones.

Proposal Two: Permitting Electronic Distribution of State Legislative Bills
This proposal has generated no controversy. Currently, the State Constitution requires that all bills be printed and delivered to the desks of members in paper form. This proposal would allow bills to be distributed to members in electronically written format. Legislators would have the option of continuing to receive paper bills if they so choose.

Proponents of the amendment argue that allowing bills to be distributed to the desks of members in electronic form will save taxpayer dollars and reduce paper waste. Proponents suggest that this amendment offers an environmentally friendly alternative to paper bills and will help modernize the way state government operates.

Proposal Three: The Smart Schools Bond Act Of 2014
A bond act is a vote for citizens to decide if they want the state to take on debt to pay for (typically) public projects. If voters permit the state to borrow the money under Proposal 3, the revenue generated would be used for purchasing educational technology including: interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet connectivity for schools and communities; facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs; and installing high-tech security features in school buildings.

Proponents of the amendment argue that disparities of classroom technologies exist across school districts and the Act will increase students’ access to classrooms that are equipped with advanced technologies.

Some opponents of the amendment have argued that the technologies will be obsolete by the time the state is finished paying for them. Others have expressed concern that equipping classrooms with advanced technologies without ensuring the availability of personnel that know how to use and train others on the technology could result in underutilization. Also, opponents feel that public dollars should only be allocated to public schools, rather than parochial or private schools.

Ultimately, the fate of these three questions is up to the voters. In order to express your views on these questions, you’re a likely to have to flip over your paper ballot in order to vote. The decisions are up to you.



Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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