Reformers Got Schooled on Election Day
Back in July, a Siena poll found most New Yorkers were in favor of a pair of constitutional amendments that would make it easier for people to vote. A mere four months later, the amendments failed at the polls.
What the heck happened? And how did another amendment that would have helped clean up the state’s flawed redistricting process fail as well? And perhaps the most relevant question of all: What now?
It’s simple: Don’t give up. Go back and do it right.
The Siena poll found 52% favored a change in the state constitution to allow people to register to vote right up to Election Day. But in the election, 51% of voters rejected it. Similarly, while 55% of voters in July supported allowing people to vote by absentee ballot for any reason, 50% of the electorate ended up voting against it.
Neither of those amendments would have led to more voter fraud. Even same-day registration would require proof of one’s identity. And despite large-scale absentee voting last year, the 2020 election was considered one of the most fair and secure in U.S. history — Donald Trump’s discredited claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
As for the redistricting amendment, it was a complex proposal to tweak the flawed system now in place; prevent more partisan tinkering with the size of the state Senate; require all people living in New York, citizens or not, to be counted for redistricting purposes; and count prison inmates in their home communities — not where they’re incarcerated — when drawing maps for congressional as well as state districts.
There was nothing insidious about any of this, but the state Republican and Conservative parties objected, for obvious reasons: With twice as many people registered Democratic as both those parties combined, anything that helps more people vote, or creates districts that more accurately reflect the political realities of the state, or ends the practice of using upstate prisoners to inflate rural district populations is seen as a Democratic advantage.
But let’s be clear: This wasn’t about a Democratic power grab, but an attempt by Republicans and Conservatives to cling to power at the expense of voting rights or improvements to an admittedly inadequate redistricting process.
And supporters of the amendments, possibly thinking that New Yorkers didn’t need to be sold on voting rights and fair representation, were caught entirely off-guard by a focused, multi-million-dollar campaign by the opposed parties to persuade voters to reject the three measures. Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs’ excuse — nobody asked for his help — encapsulates how oblivious the party was to the existential threat Republicans and Conservatives perceived these amendments to be, and to the need to counter the false but base-rallying voter fraud meme.
Where to go from here? For Democrats in the Legislature, it should be right back to the drawing board, to fine-tune the registration and absentee ballot proposals, pass them next year and the year after as required by the constitution, put them on the ballot in 2023, and sell the hell out of them.
As for redistricting, perhaps this is one pig no one can put lipstick on, nor should they. New York deserves a far more independent process than the one on the books. It’s too late to fix it this time, which means the next chance won’t came along for another decade. That leaves plenty of time to get it right, put a well-designed proposal before voters a few years down the road, and — we can’t emphasize this enough — sell the hell out of it.
This isn’t rocket science. It’s Politics 101. Here’s hoping reformers and reform-minded politicians paid attention.
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