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Op-ed: General election ballot proposals could dramatically shape the future of New York

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards speaks at the ceremony unveiling “One Claire Shulman Way” as the vanity address of Queens Borough Hall. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

The political horse race during an election year can certainly be captivating as the nominees of each party jockey for our attention and, ultimately, our votes in November.

This year, however, arguably the most important items on our ballot are not the names of the candidates seeking to lead us forward. Instead, it’s the five proposed amendments to the State Constitution that have the capability to dramatically shape the future of New York state for years to come.

All five ballot proposals are critically important, and I implore New Yorkers to take the time to research each one before you head to the polls in two months. But there are three specific measures on the ballot this November that I believe present tremendous opportunities for tangible progress on critical issues like voting rights and environmental justice — measures that need our support.

BALLOT PROPOSAL 2: RIGHT TO CLEAN AIR, CLEAN WATER AND A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT

As the former chairperson of the New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection, I fully believe that clean air, clean water and a healthy environment are human rights that all New York families deserve. But for so many across our city, those rights are being infringed upon every single day. 

For years, residents of southeast Queens and parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx have been disproportionally impacted by pollution emanating from area waste transfer facilities, all while concerns about water contamination continue to increase. For the health of our families, these kinds of stark inequities cannot continue. New Yorkers must embrace this unprecedented opportunity to enshrine those rights to a healthy environment in our State Constitution.

Protecting the well-being of all 2.4 million people who call Queens home is my top priority as borough president. That’s why I believe coming out of the world’s worst public health crisis in a century, ensuring our air is pure and our water is clean has never been more critical. Join me in voting Yes on Ballot Proposal 2.

BALLOT PROPOSALS 3 AND 4: ELIMINATING TEN-DAY ADVANCE VOTER REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT; AUTHORIZING NO-EXCUSE ABSENTEE BALLOT VOTING

The ballot box is the beating heart of our democracy. But our most fundamental right — the right to vote — is under a renewed assault across the nation as extreme right-wing leaders in state after state strive to impose draconian and, in many cases, overtly racist laws designed to make voting nearly impossible for many Americans, mainly people of color. These callous attacks on our democracy should inspire us to look inward at our own electoral system here in New York and rectify its many wrongs.

For years, low voter turnout has plagued New York City, while barriers like requiring voters to register at least 10 days before an election or requiring a resident to provide a reason as to why they’re voting via absentee ballot act as obstacles to those simply trying to exercise their basic constitutional right. Those archaic regulations are pointless, arbitrary and wholly without merit. If the right to vote is as sacred as we say it is, we must recognize that New York’s current system does not exude that virtue and strive for change.

Our state Legislature has worked hard to improve this in recent years, but there is always room to go further. With these two ballot proposals, we have a golden opportunity to legalize same-day voter registration, allow residents to vote whichever way they choose, and make it much simpler for every eligible voter to participate in our cherished democratic process. Ballot Proposals 3 and 4 have the potential to modernize our electoral process and bring us closer to an equable system of voting for all. I will vote Yes on both, and urge all New Yorkers to do the same.

Justice. It is often sought but rarely achieved. Should they pass, however, these three ballot proposals will represent giant strides toward ensuring we live in a more just society where our fundamental rights to life and liberty are truly protected.

Donovan Richards is the current Queens borough president. Richards is up for re-election in the general election on Nov. 2.

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