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New York ballot features three amendments including redistricting, education bond

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There are three amendments on Tuesday’s ballot, for New Yorkers to decide, including changing redistricting and whether to borrow $2 billion dollars for school technology.   

The number one ballot amendment changes the way redistricting is conducted in New York, and reform groups are split over whether it’s a good idea or not.

The amendment would require the legislature to pick a ten member commission to draw the new district lines the next time they are required by the census, in 2020.  Majority and Minority party legislative leaders would each get to choose two commission members. The eight commissioners would then choose the final two members.  The panel would then draw the lines, based on several principles of fairness.

Dick Dadey, with Citizens Union, which supports the measure, along with the League of Women Voters, says it’s the best opportunity in decades to help fix a broken system that allows nearly unlimited gerrymandering by legislative leaders to benefit parties in power.

“It’s rare in politics when voters are given the opportunity to take power away from the legislature,” Dadey said. “We believe that this is an important step forward.”

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, is urging a no vote, as is Common Cause, saying it’s “fake” reform and would enshrine in the state constitution lawmakers’ ability to gerrymander the districts.

“Is this independent panel? We argue no. They’re puppets,” Horner said. “And the legislature is still the puppeteer”.

Horner says there are other loopholes in the amendment , including allowing the legislature in two consecutive votes to override the commission’s recommendations and draw its own lines.

The second item is far less controversial. It would allow the legislature to go paperless, and no longer print thousands of pages of bills each year. Lawmakers would access the legislation digitally. The measure, championed by Schenectady Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, has no known opposition.

The third ballot amendment would permit New York State to borrow $2 billion dollars to pay for computer tablets and better internet access for school children.  Governor Cuomo proposed the idea, and says voters should approve it.

“We jumpstart the technology revolution in education,” said Cuomo of the bond act. “Which is long, long overdue.”

Cuomo has already appointed a commission to distribute the money. Education groups are lukewarm, and fiscal watchdog groups say it doesn’t make good economic sense to issue long term bonds to for items like I-Pads, which will be outdated long before the debt is repaid.

EJ McMahon is with the Empire Center.

“They’re assuming a box full of I-Pads that some school buys next year are still going to be useful and not obsolete in 2022,” McMahon said. “Nobody believes that.”

All of the amendments will be appear on the back of the ballot, voters will need to remember to turn the sheet over in order to vote on the items.  

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.