MY TURN/Sen. Tom O'Mara: 'Balanced state government at stake in November'

N.Y. State Senator Tom O'Mara

Voters heading to the polls this November will have the opportunity to vote Yes or No on several amendments to the New York State Constitution that they should be fully aware of and that, in my view, pose significant dangers to the short- and long-term future of New York State government. 

N.Y. State Senator Tom O'Mara

These proposals were thought up, drafted, and moved forward through the Legislature by and for the benefit of the downstate, extreme-liberal supermajorities controlling our New York State Legislature. 

There will be a total of five proposed amendments up for consideration on the back of this year’s ballot. My advice is that you remember to turn over your ballot and vote NO on all five. In particular, I am focusing here on just three, urging voters to vote NO and fully reject Proposals 1, 3, and 4. 

Let’s take them one at a time. 

PROPOSAL NUMBER ONE will read as follows: “This proposed constitutional amendment would freeze the number of state senators at 63, amend the process for the counting of the state’s population, delete certain provisions that violate the United States Constitution, repeal and amend certain requirements for the appointment of the co-executive directors of the redistricting commission and amend the manner of drawing district lines for congressional and state legislative offices. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?” 

Background: Sixty-three senators, fine, but that’s not what this proposal is really about. The description is a ruse and provides no detail about what this actually is about and does. In 2014 – when there were Democrat and Republican majorities in the state Assembly and Senate, respectively -- millions of state voters voted overwhelmingly to take the politics out of the once-every-decade legislative redistricting process and put it in the hands of an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). The 2014 constitutional amendment creating the IRC seeks to ensure that no region of the state, special interest, or political party gains an unfair advantage in the process of redrawing the boundaries of state legislative and Congressional districts. 

Every 10 years, New York State is required to draw new district lines that reflect population and demographic changes reported in the most recent Census. Unlike in previous years when state legislative leaders fully controlled the process, more than 2 million New Yorkers voted in a 2014 referendum to give that responsibility to the new IRC. 

This new process is underway. The IRC is now holding a second round of public hearings to gather input from local citizens and community leaders. 

Nevertheless, Proposal 1 on this November’s ballot represents an attempt by the Democrat supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly – all of whom voted to enact legislation placing the proposal on this year’s ballot -- to undermine the new process and return the redistricting process, potentially once and for all, into their own hands, thereby ensuring a future of partisan gerrymandering. If Proposal 1 is approved, the state’s Democrat majorities will be gifted wide latitude to draw and adopt district maps that further their own political, partisan interests.  

The bottom line at stake here is a future of permanent one-party control of New York State government. As we have witnessed over the past several years, one-party control is not balanced government, it’s not democratic government, and it leaves Upstate New York behind. 

Vote NO on Proposal 1. 

Don’t just take my word for it. A number of prominent good government groups also urge opposition to Proposal 1.  

The League of Women Voters, for example, urges a NO vote and states that the “proposed amendment would unfairly empower the majority party by preventing the minority party from having input into the final proposed maps … repeal the special legislative voting rules in place in case one party control both legislative houses … take away voting rights of minority party-appointed commission members … (and) significantly reduce the role of the (IRC) in the entire process.” 

PROPOSAL NUMBER THREE reads as follows: “The proposed amendment would delete the current requirement in Article 2, § 5 that a citizen be registered to vote at least ten days before an election and would allow the Legislature to enact laws permitting a citizen to register to vote less than ten days before the election. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?” 

Simply stated, as I and other opponents see it, this is another attempt, disguised as “reform,” by Albany’s current ruling class to permanently solidify its hold on power under the guise of broadening access to New York’s democratic electoral process. Voting access is a commonly shared goal – not, however, in ways that potentially throw the door wide open to questionable practices that will undermine the integrity of our elections. In this instance, the enactment of this amendment heightens the potential for election fraud, decreases election security, and diminishes election integrity by overwhelming the ability of local boards of election to ensure that access is extended only to those who are legally eligible to vote.  

Vote NO on Proposal 2. 

PROPOSAL NUMBER FOUR will read as follows: “The proposed amendment would delete from the current provision on absentee ballots the requirement that an absentee voter must be unable to appear at the polls by reason of absence from the county or illness or physical disability. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?” 

Again, disguised as a “reform” to increase voter participation, Proposal 4 attempts a radical reshifting of the electoral process to implement “no-excuse absentee voting” that threatens election security, raises serious concerns about ballot harvesting, and will result in unreasonable delays in determining election outcomes. Absentee voting as we have traditionally known it is a necessary and reasonable process for those unable to be at home on Election Day, as well as for those unable to make it to their polling place due to sickness, disability, and other specific reasons. Expanding vote-by-mail to everyone, however, regardless of ability to vote in person, raises far too many red flags and puts in play far too many downsides for abuse. 

Vote NO on Proposal 4. 

In short, I believe that Proposals 1, 3, and 4 work against, not for balanced government in New York State.  

Remember, these proposed Constitutional amendments are blatant attempts written by and for Albany’s current powers-that-be to secure their short- and long-term hold on power and on the levers of New York State government as a whole. 

New York State Senator Tom O'Mara represents the 58th District, which includes Yates, Steuben, Schuyler and Chemung counties and a portion of Tompkins County.