New York

Election 2021: State says ‘no’ to voting reforms, ‘yes’ to environmental right

A Saratoga Springs resident votes on Election Day at Saratoga Springs City Center.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A Saratoga Springs resident votes on Election Day at Saratoga Springs City Center.

ALBANY (AP) — New Yorkers approved a ballot measure adding the right to a clean environment to the state constitution but rejected other proposed amendments that could have made it easier to vote.

The environmental measure was one of five statewide ballot questions before New York voters Tuesday.

Supporters say enshrining a constitutional right to clean air and water will require the government to consider the environment in policy-making and give greater weight to people who sue over a failure to do so.

New York joins a handful of states that have created a constitutional right to a clean environment.

“This ballot measure will help improve the health of residents throughout the state — especially in low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution,” said Harold P. Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

Critics, including some Republicans, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association and the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, say the constitutional right is too vague and will simply fuel costly lawsuits.

Voters soundly rejected two other proposed constitutional amendments related to voting rights.

One amendment would have gotten rid of a requirement that people register to vote at least 10 days before an election.

The other rejected amendment would have removed a constitutional restriction limiting absentee voting to New Yorkers who are ill, have a physical disability or are outside the country.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, New York has allowed any voters fearful of COVID-19 to vote by mail, but Democratic lawmakers wanted to make no-excuse absentee voting permanent.

The New York State Conservative Party fought those initiatives with a $3 million campaign featuring media ads and lawn signs statewide in late October, according to party chair Jerry Kassar.

“We felt this was an attempt by the liberal Democrats, the Democratic Party, to really hurt our ability to win elections,” Kassar said.

Voters also rejected a ballot initiative that would have changed New York’s process of drawing political maps for legislative and congressional districts.

The measure would have limited the number of state senators to 63, moved up the timeline for redistricting, and counted incarcerated people at their last place of residence, rather than the place where they are imprisoned.

It also would have allowed amended political maps to be approved with a 60% majority in the legislature, rather than a two-thirds vote, when one political party controls both chambers.

Critics, including the New York chapter of the League of Women Voters, cited provisions that would weaken the role of minority political parties.

Supporters of the ballot initiatives, including Democrats and voter advocacy groups, said Wednesday that a deluge of opposition ads statewide might have swayed voters.

“I didn’t see any ads telling people to vote yes; I saw plenty of ads telling people to vote no,” New York Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Blair Horner said.

Horner said it’s possible that liberal leaders in New York, where Democrats hold legislative supermajorities, simply didn’t feel “energized” to launch a robust campaign.

Voters passed a fifth proposal increasing from $25,000 to $50,000 the minimum claim needed to send a case to New York City’s civil court.

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