Conventional wisdom going into Election Day was that all three constitutional amendments for election “reform” would pass. Not this time — not a one.
Deep-blue New York voters overwhelmingly rejected ballot measures known as Proposals 1,3 and 4 concerning the independent redistricting commission, same-day voter registration and mail-in balloting. It’s yet another example of how voters Tuesday expressed their displease with progressive overreach — and should be a warning shot to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who are pushing similar “reform” measures in Congress.
It’s usually best to follow the money. Here, it was a surprise attack by the New York State Conservative Party, which spent $3 million in the last two weeks on TV, radio and social media ads. “The fact that we didn’t wake up the opposition was an added benefit,” said party chairman Jerry Kassar. Even Democratic Party state chairman Jay Jacobs acknowledged that “the ball was dropped.”
It was a perfect storm: a non-presidential election year where upstate voters turned out in higher numbers than downstate voters. The Democratic Party didn’t believe it needed to advertise or educate voters since most election-reform amendments pass. Making it even more confusing, some left-of-center groups were pushing hard for Proposal 2 concerning the environment but neutral on the election-reform measures. The combination of low turnout in New York City, motivated and informed upstate Republicans and voter drop-off due to a lack of awareness resulted in a Democratic loss.
Proposal 1 would have eliminated the independent redistricting commission that voters overwhelmingly approved just seven years ago. This was a pure and simple power grab by Albany Democrats to control the redistricting process. Democrats have been salivating at the prospect of gerrymandering the 26 congressional districts from eight Republican seats to potentially three. They control the House of Representatives by a slim four-seat majority; getting rid of five New York Republican seats could tip the balance in their favor. Voters have now been forced to voice their opinions twice, and they clearly want an independent commission to draw bipartisan maps.
In 2014, voters rationally approved a bipartisan commission to get away from the process used in the 2011 redistricting process, in which “three men in a room” tried to decide the maps. In the last decade, the “three men in a room” system has been a disaster, with two of the men getting prison sentences and Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigning in disgrace. The maps were eventually decided through a federal panel that resulted in upstate congresswoman Kathy Hochul being the “odd man out.” In 2012, she lost her re-election, and her consolation prize was being appointed lieutenant governor in 2014. Some say she holds a grudge about how the process was handled in 2011 and may get revenge on those who pushed her out, through redistricting in 2022. It would explain why so many congressional Democrats are deferential to her.
Voters rightly saw Proposal 3, same-day voter registration, as a gateway to mischief and voter fraud. New York allows people to register 10 days before an election, which gives administrators time to verify residency, citizenship and duplication. What would stop unregistered people from New Jersey traveling to New York to vote in a tight US Senate race or primary?
With same-day voter registration, it might be considered legal for the teachers union to bus unregistered people from Westchester County into New York City to vote. Same-day voter registration eliminates the importance of residency and opens the entire voting system to fraud. No wonder Proposal 3 failed.
The biggest surprise to Democrats must have been the rejection of Proposal 4, dealing with mail-in ballots and absentee voting. After Democrats used it successfully around the country in 2020, they were hoping to expand the pandemic political playbook permanently. No such luck without amending the state Constitution.
All three election “reform” ballot measures came straight from a Democratic wish list and were heavily hyped by progressives. That even voters in deep-blue New York overwhelmingly rejected gerrymandering, same-day voter registration and mail-in ballots shows just how tired people are of progressive overreach.
Adele Malpass was chair of the Manhattan Republican Party and national political reporter for RealClearPolitics.
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