There are six countywide proposals and a handful of local propositions needing voter’s yeas or nays on the flipside of this election’s ballot come Tuesday, November 2. The biggest worry for supporters of ballot propositions is that voters will forget that those questions always get printed on the other side of the paper.
This year the countywide questions include five amendments to the constitution of the state, and another about modifying the charter of the county. All of the legal language is available in an online guide prepared under the supervision of Ashley Dittus, a Democrat, and John Quigley, a Republican, the county’s two election commissioners, appointed by their respective parties. For that reason, while Quigley and Dittus agree on what these propositions mean, they do not entirely agree on which ones are good ideas.
Amending the state constitution is a slow process: it requires a statewide referendum, which must be approved in two successive legislative sessions. That takes three years to accomplish, and now there are five referenda on the ballot for consideration. The other way to change the constitution is through a convention, and question of calling one is required to be on the ballot every 20 years. Voters turned that idea down in 2017.
Proposition 1: Enact redistricting reform
The first amendment would set the number of senators in the state at 63, and would also make changes to the process of redrawing legislative district lines, most notably by counting state prisoners based on their last residence before being incarcerated, and striking language that prevents aliens from being counted at all. If the amendment passes, rules for how new congressional and state legislative districts are drawn will remove requirements that the independent commission’s co-chairs be members of different parties, for one thing. Passing the amendment would be changing a process that was approved in 2014, and hasn’t yet been used, though Ulster County utilized that method in its last local redistricting after the 2010 census.
“I think [Democrats] are worried about if they lose control,” said Dittus.
How congressional district are drawn in the state matters nationally. Lawmakers are being asked to “shore up Democratic districts . . .” The amendment is “not making it more independent,” she said, and it preserves the clause that would allow legislators to draw the lines if they fail to pass the “independent” proposals. Dittus noted that this is opposed by the League of Women Voters, a group that only infrequently offers a position; county Democrats, on the other hand, maintain that it will “remove the partisan bias.”
Quigley questions how this amendment would make the process of drawing district lines more independent from lawmakers. Packing the number of senators in with this apportionment proposal is pure politics, the commissioner believes.
Proposition 2: Provide the right to clean air, water, and a healthful environment
The second amendment would create the right to “clean air and water and a healthful environment.” This would open the door to people go to court to assert that right.
Propositions 3: Allow same-day voter registration
Following this are questions that “impact my ability to do my job,” said Quigley. The third proposal is to eliminate the rule that a citizen must be registered ten days before an election to vote, making it possible to pass a law allowing for same-day registration.
Proposition 4: Allow no-excuse absentee voting
The fourth amendment removes the need to provide a reason when asking for an absentee ballot. Dittus believes that more young people would vote if they could register at the poll site, and more generally that removing barriers to voting leads to fairer results. Quigley has “hesitation” around this idea, saying, “At the moment, there has not been enough discussion or clarity as to the implementation of these proposals.”
Pandemic worries may have increased interest in voting by mail, and Dittus said that there has been a lot of confusion around whether the pandemic was a valid reason. Ballots can be challenged based on that reason, and Dittus said, “I would love to put those lawyers out of work.” Dittus predicted that if this passes and more voters use the mail, it could lead to ballots being sent automatically. This amendment would not itself change that, however, as absentee ballots must still be requested.
Quigley is “indifferent” on dropping of excuses, and admits that this is a departure from the party line. Quigley is more interested in being able to confirm the identity of people registering online, as no signature is required in that process. “If we can solve verification, it shouldn’t matter why you requested it.”
Proposition 5: Increase the amount of claims allowed to be heard in New York City Civil Court from the current $25,000 to $50,000
A statewide referendum is required to change the dollar limit of cases heard in the civil courts. Passage of this proposition could reduce some backlog in higher courts by shifting it to the lower.
Proposition 6: Utilization of funds designated for payroll expenses within the County budget
An Ulster County Charter amendment would limit certain types of budget transfers in the county.
The Town of Marlborough will ask voters if the term of office of the Superintendent of Highways should be increased from two years to four years.
Town of New Paltz voters will vote on whether to increase the operating budget of the Elting Memorial Library by $100,000 to the sum of $656,000 annually.
New Paltz Village voters will decide if the New Paltz Volunteer Firefighter Service Award program should be increased from $700 per qualified active volunteer firefighter to $1200 per vol for each calendar year.
In the town of Olive, voters are asked if the yearly operating budget of the Olive Free Library Association should be increased from $148,142 to $168,142.
Shandaken voters will have their say on a proposition asking if the town’s annual contribution for the Morton Memorial Library should increase by $10,000 to $54,750 annually and if the operating budget for the Phoenicia Library should also increase y $10,000 to $182,000 annually.
Town of Ulster voters will decide if the town should create an Office of Town Comptroller.
And Woodstock voters will decide if the town should undertake a project to renovate, construct and make improvements to its town offices by spending $2,990,000 and if it should partially finance the project by borrowing (bonding) for $1 million. The balance would come from an already existing Capital Fund.
Early voting in Ulster County runs Saturday, October 23-Sunday, October 31, and all registered voters may cast ballots during this period at one of six locations:
1. American Legion in Shokan, 26-28 Mountain Road, Shokan, 12481
2. Midtown Neighborhood Center, 467 Broadway, Kingston, 12401
3. Ellenville Public Library, 40 Center Street, Ellenville, 12428
4. SUNY New Paltz Student Union, 1 Hawk Drive, off S. Manheim Blvd/32N, New Paltz, 12561
5. Marlborough Town Hall, 21 Milron Ruenpike, Milron, 12547
6. Saugerties Senior Center, 207 Market Street Saugeties, 12477
The hours vary by day. It’s 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the weekend days at the beginning and end of the period. During the week, it’s 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Voters who prefer to wait until November 2 will have been sent a postcard with the address of that polling site.
For more information, see elections.ulstercountyny.gov.