2014 Voter Guide

New York State Ballot Proposals

On November 4th, you will be voting YES or NO on three statewide ballot proposals. These three proposals are covered in depth, starting with the official text of the ballot question and a CFB-prepared description of the effect it will have if passed. To help you decide, the CFB has provided reasons to vote yes or no based on media coverage and other public commentary. The CFB also reached out to the public, requesting organizations and individuals to submit "pro" or "con" statements explaining why they support or oppose each proposal. (These statements are provided as supplied by the authors.) The information provided does not necessarily reflect all the reasons to support or oppose each proposal.

You can read the full text of each proposal on the State Board of Elections’ website at www.elections.ny.gov.

Proposal 1 | Revising State's Redistricting Procedure
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?

The amendment would change the way State Senate, State Assembly, and Congressional district lines are drawn every ten years. Under the current system, the majority and minority leaders of the New York State legislature appoint a six-member task force that drafts a plan in consultation with the legislature, then submits the plan to the legislature and governor for approval. Under the proposed system, the state’s legislative leaders would appoint eight of the ten members of the new redistricting commission. Those eight would choose two additional members. The commission would draft a plan, hold public hearings, and then submit the plan to the legislature and the governor for approval.

Commission Appointment, Qualifications, and Staff

The majority and minority leader of the senate and the majority and minority leader of the assembly would each appoint two members, and those eight members would choose two additional members who may not have been enrolled in either of the two major political parties at any point in the preceding five years.

To the extent practicable, the members would reflect the diversity of New York residents and be selected after consultation with outside groups. All commission members must be registered to vote in New York.

Members may not (currently or in the preceding three years) be:

Spouses of any statewide elected official, member of Congress, or member of the state legislature are also prohibited from serving on the commission.

The commission would appoint two co-executive directors, one representing the political party with the most members in the state and the other representing the political party with the second most members in the state, and would review any staffing plan prepared by the co-executive directors.

Creating the Plan

The amendment establishes principles to be applied in creating districts, which must be drawn consistently with the requirements of the federal and state constitutions and federal statutes.

These principles include:

While preparing its redistricting plan, the commission must hold at least 12 public hearings throughout the state. The public must be notified of the hearings and be able to access and review the commission’s draft redistricting plans, relevant data, and related information before the first public hearing. The commission must report the findings of the public hearings to the Legislature when the commission submits its redistricting plan.

Approving the Plan and Staff

The amendment also would establish a specific process for the commission to use when voting on the redistricting plan or the appointment of senior staff and for the legislature to use when approving the plan. These requirements vary depending on whether the control of the legislature is held by one political party or is split between the two major parties. For example:

If the senate and the assembly are controlled by the same party –

If the senate and the assembly are controlled by different parties -

If the commission cannot agree on a plan by the statutory deadline, it would be required to send the legislature the plan that received the most votes.

If the commission submits two plans that are rejected by the legislature (or are approved by the legislature but vetoed by the governor and the legislature fails to override such vetoes) the legislature would draft its own plan which, if approved by both houses, would be presented to the governor for approval.

Reasons to Vote YES
  • The proposed commission will be more independent than the current model because state and federal legislators, legislators’ staff, and registered lobbyists are prohibited from serving as members.
  • The amendment will discourage gerrymandering because the commission and the legislature are required to follow common principles that would prohibit drawing district lines that abridge the rights of racial or language minority voters, or lines that favor or disfavor incumbents, would be required to consider maintaining the cores of pre-existing districts, political subdivisions, and communities of interest, and would be required to create districts of contiguous territory that are as compact as practicable. The courts can use these principles to evaluate any plan and throw it out if necessary.
  • The amendment will ensure that the majority and minority parties will be forced to work toward consensus to approve senior staff and any redistricting plan.
  • The proposed commission will limit partisanship because membership will be equally balanced between the majority and minority parties in the legislature, and will also include two members who are not enrolled in either of the two major parties.
  • The current system doesn’t work, and some improvement is far better than none at all. The legislature has not addressed this issue in fifty years. If we don’t approve this compromise, it will be many years before we get another chance.
Reasons to Vote NO
  • The commission will not be independent because the state legislature chooses eight of the ten members and will control their votes. Along with the governor, the legislature has final say over any redistricting plan. The legislature can even draw up its own plan if it rejects the commission’s plan twice.
  • The amendment will not end incumbent-friendly gerrymandering. In drawing district lines, the commission and the legislature are required to consider maintaining the cores of pre-existing districts and communities of interest. This sounds like the amendment would protect incumbents’ districts. This will hardly produce an impartial and independent redistricting plan.
  • The amendment creates a complicated partisan voting system for hiring senior staff and approving a redistricting plan, which gives the minority party the power to veto the will of the majority. The amendment also requires the votes of particular political appointees for an approval. If the voting system were truly impartial it would require the votes of the unaffiliated members instead, for example to break ties.
  • The commission will not be effective because it will have an even number of members with equal representation from the two major parties. This will lead to gridlock. A deadlock on the commission empowers the legislature to create its own plan.
  • The current system is lousy, but this proposal will make things worse. Even its proponents admit it has flaws. In fact, it is a dangerous and counterfeit reform. If approved, it will set in stone a system of political control of redistricting in our state constitution rather than creating a truly independent redistricting process. Changing it or improving it will be extremely difficult. The legislature can and should come up with a better plan before the next redistricting in 2022.
PRO: Statements Supporting Proposal 1
Citizens Union

Yes on Proposal 1

For more than 50 years, New York’s elected officials have rigged the redistricting process, drawing districts that protect incumbents and limit voter choice by effectively eliminating competitive elections. New Yorkers now have the opportunity to reform this broken system by voting Yes for Proposition 1 on November 4.

Proposition 1 will make it unconstitutional to draw legislative maps for political advantage, and will give New Yorkers new power to hold Albany legislators accountable. The amendment strips state legislators of their unchecked power to rig electoral districts by creating a politically balanced commission that will divide the state into fair districts. The amendment establishes rules that end partisanship, ensure impartiality and protect minority voters. For example, no legislators, lobbyists, political figures or others with conflicts of interest can serve on the commission.

New Yorkers will be able to hold the commission accountable because it will be required to engage actively with the public. It must hold public hearings around the state and make all of its data, draft maps, and information widely available in a form that allows the public to comment.

The result will be a more competitive election process in which incumbents are no longer virtually assured re-election.

Citizens Union

CON: Statements Opposing Proposal 1
Common Cause New York

No on Proposal 1

Proposal 1 doesn't reform redistricting. It's designed to confuse voters by making the redistricting process look fair and impartial when nothing has really changed. In fact, it makes a bad system even worse.

It preserves gerrymandering - drawing district lines for political advantage - which allows politicians to choose their voters, instead of letting voters choose their representatives.  The commission it sets up is not independent. It is chosen by the Legislature and the Legislature can reject the Commission's plan and substitute its own.

It will cost taxpayers more money without giving them real benefits. It will require a large staff and the rules for drawing districts will invite costly litigation because they are confusing and contradictory.

It eliminates the ban on prison-based gerrymandering, so that prisoners can again be used to falsely inflate the populations in the districts where they're imprisoned, giving those areas more representatives than they deserve. 

Worst of all, this amendment makes partisan gerrymandering part of our constitution, which makes it mandatory and harder than ever to change.

DON'T BE SHORTCHANGED BY ALBANY POLITICIANS. We have time to get this right and pass real reform.

Vote NO on Proposal 1

Common Cause New York

New York Public Interest Research Group

No on Proposal 1

There are two fundamental, unfixable defects with the proposal:

  1. The Legislature chooses the members of the proposal’s new Commission.  Even if these Commissioners act independently, legislators are still the final decision makers on any redistricting plan.

    That’s right: Proposition 1 allows the Legislature to approve the plan developed by their hand-picked appointees.  And if the sitting legislators who will run in the districts don’t like the plan, Proposition 1 allows the Legislature to tear up the Commission plan and to draw its own map.

    Recently a judge ruled that the state can’t use the word “independent” in the ballot language to describe the Commission, concluding there’s no reasonable way to interpret it as “independent.”

  2. But it gets worse.  Prop 1 requires that the core of existing districts must be considered in drafting the new plan.  No such requirement exists in the Constitution currently.  Forcing all future mapmakers to rely on the existing legislative districts enshrines the awful system New York has in place.

Reject Proposition 1.  It is not reform—in fact it will set back real efforts to fix New York’s broken redistricting process.

New York Public Interest Research Group

Sean Coffey, Member, No to Fake Redistricting Reform

PROPOSAL 1 IS DESIGNED TO CONFUSE VOTERS SO POLITICIANS CAN STAY IN POWER. Redistricting reform is needed but this is not reform, it's the same old Albany game. Politicians may try and make the proposal look fair and impartial, but it will just let politicians choose their voters, not the other way around.

New Yorkers deserve fair and impartial redistricting, but Prop 1 locks in a system where district lines are dependent on political control of the Legislature for decades to come.

A state court judge has ruled the proposed commission cannot be called "independent" because it's merely a proxy for the Legislature, and that "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."

Politicians, Albany insiders, and party elites who will say almost anything to protect the status quo will tell you this is the only hope to get something done, but that's a false choice. We shouldn't put something this confusing, flawed and partisan in our constitution

Good government, civil rights, and environmental organizations are asking you to vote NO on Prop. 1. Vote NO!

Sean Coffey, Member
No to Fake Redistricting Reform Committee

Women’s City Club

The Women's City Club of New York urges you to vote NO on Ballot Proposition One.

New York State is known for having some of the least competitive elections in the United States. Once elected, our state legislators are routinely reelected -- not surprising since the legislators themselves are largely responsible for redrawing their own district lines every 10 years.

Ballot Proposition No.1 fails to make any real change in the current system. lt adds a new Redistricting Commission to the New York State Constitution but allows New York State legislators to keep their influence and control over redistricting.

The legislature itself will appoint almost all the Commission members. It can reject the district maps produced, and draw its own maps, much as it does now.

The Commission will be created with two Executive Directors, further politicizing the process and making either gridlock or negotiated agreements by the legislature likely.

The criteria for creating district lines are vague in some parts and inconsistent in others. Clear priorities are not established to help resolve conflicting criteria.

It is very difficult to change the N. Y. State Constitution. We should vote NO on a proposition that does not put true reform into the Constitution.

Women's City Club of New York

Proposal 2 | Permitting Electronic Distribution of State Legislative Bills
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?

The amendment would change the way proposed bills are presented to legislators. The New York State Constitution now requires a proposed bill to be printed and placed on the desks of legislators in final form, at least three calendar days before the Legislature votes on it, unless the governor determines that the proposed bill requires an immediate vote. The amendment would allow bills to be presented to legislators in electronic format.

Reasons to Vote YES
  • The proposed amendment would save a substantial amount in printing, paper, and recycling costs.
  • More than half of other state legislatures have taken steps to go paperless or reduce paper use. New York should not be left behind.
Reasons to Vote NO
  • The proposed amendment would hurt the pulp and paper business, an important part of New York’s upstate economy.
  • The proposed amendment puts the legislative process at risk of delay due to electronic malfunctions or, possibly, hacking.
PRO: Statements Supporting Proposal 2
Seamus Campbell

Proposal 2 should be adopted because it will make the state legislative-drafting process more transparent while reducing waste. Currently, every bill must be printed out and then distributed to all 213 members of the state legislature. Especially when it comes to budget bills, thousands of pages of legislation will be printed and placed on each individual lawmaker's desk. Further the 3-day waiting period for bills to be reviewed does not begin until the proposed legislation is physically printed, not when it is introduced to the whole body. By approving this proposal, unnecessary waste of paper and ink/toner will be reduced. Further, digital copies of legislation allows for much faster searching through bills for specific text. Finally, by tracking all changes to legislative bills, it will allow for lawmakers and ordinary citizens alike to be more informed of the legislative process while ensuring that legislators are held accountable for when they insert and/or remove sections of bills.

Seamus Campbell
75 Henry Street Apt. 3E
Brooklyn, NY 11201

CON: Statements Opposing Proposal 2
None received
Proposal 3 | The Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014
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?

If the measure is approved, the state would be authorized to borrow $2 billion to fund capital projects for public and nonpublic schools for learning technology equipment and facilities, including but not limited to: interactive whiteboards, laptops, desktops, tablets, and servers; high-speed broadband service or wireless internet connectivity for schools and communities; construction and modernization of educational facilities for pre-kindergarten programs; replacement of classrooms that are in trailers; and installation of high-tech security features in school buildings and on school campuses. If the amendment is approved, a review board, including the Chancellor of the State University of New York, would issue guidelines for grant eligibility and schools would submit investment plans for this board’s approval.

Reasons to Vote YES
  • The proposed bond issue would help our children develop the technological literacy that will prepare them to get jobs in this economy.
  • The proposed bond issue would improve facilities for pre-kindergarten programs and provide long-needed replacements for trailers now used as classrooms.
  • We need funding for high-tech infrastructure improvements including wireless connectivity systems for schools and communities and high-tech security systems in schools.
Reasons to Vote NO
  • The state has too much debt already; this $2 billion bond sale would cause the state to go even deeper into debt.
  • If the state is going to issue new bonds, it should be to repair or replace aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, protection of our drinking water, and/or sewer upgrades.
  • Bonds should only be used to fund long-term projects that will maintain their value for the duration of the borrowing, not for computer equipment which could become obsolete before the bonds are paid off.
  • Even if equipment is paid for, school districts will be forced to allocate money in their already tight budgets to hire skilled staff to run and maintain it.
PRO: Statements Supporting Proposal 3
None received
CON: Statements Opposing Proposal 3
None received