Along with selecting the next mayor of New York City and governor of New Jersey, registered voters in both states weighed in on a number of key ballot measures with implications ranging from redistricting to clean air and water, sports betting, nonprofit gambling and more.
Here are the preliminary results on statewide proposals in New York and New Jersey and what each of them means. (Note: There may be additional local proposals in specific municipalities. These are just the statewide ones.)
New Jersey only had two ballot proposals. In results that were tallied Wednesday, voters rejected a measure that would have allowed betting on New Jersey college teams or teams from other states whose games are played in New Jersey.
Although the state has been a pioneer in sports wagering, local collegiate games have been off-limits. Sports betting in general remains legal in the state, and the question had intended to help New Jersey maintain its national leadership of the legal sports betting market in the U.S.
The Garden State's second proposal would allow New Jersey organizations to use raffles, bingos and other games of chance to raise money for their own organization. Only veterans and senior citizen groups were allowed to use proceeds from those games to support their groups, but voters overwhelmingly agreed Tuesday to expand that to all organizations.
In New York, voters voters defeated an attempt to make relaxed pandemic voting laws the new norm.
The state constitution limits absentee voting to those who are ill, physically disabled or out of town on Election Day. But last year, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a temporary law allowing anyone to vote absentee rather than risk exposure to the coronavirus at polling sites. Voters rejected a measure that would have effectively made that permanent, by getting rid of the constitutional limitations on absentee voting and bringing New York in line with two-thirds of states that already allow no-excuse absentee voting or automatically send mail-in ballots to voters.
Nearly 2 million people cast absentee ballots in the November 2020 election— more than 20% of New York's total votes.
Voters also declined to repeal a constitutional requirement that voters register at least 10 days before an election. That would have allowed the Legislature to authorize registration on the same day as voting, which already is legal in 20 states.
“New York’s constitution has barriers that have prevented the state from bringing its elections up to date," said Patrick Berry, a Democracy Program counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. The ballot measures provide an "opportunity to break down those barriers,” he said.
The New York State Conservative Party fought those initiatives with a $3 million campaign featuring media ads and lawn signs statewide in late October, according to party chair Jerry Kassar.
“We felt this was an attempt by the liberal Democrats, the Democratic Party, to really hurt our ability to win elections,” Kassar said.
Another failed amendment would have changed New York's process for redrawing voting districts for U.S. House and state legislative chambers based on 2020 census data. The commission charged with recommending maps has splintered along partisan lines this fall.
The ballot measure, among other things, would have made it easier for the Democratic-led Legislature to pass new maps, by allowing for amended political maps to be approved with a 60 percent majority in the legislature, rather than a two-thirds vote, when one political party controls both chambers.
Additionally, the measure would have the number of state senators to 63, moved up the timeline for redistricting, and counted incarcerated people at their last place of residence, rather than the place where they are imprisoned.
Critics, including the New York chapter of the League of Women Voters, cited provisions that would weaken the role of minority political parties. Supporters of the ballot initiatives, including Democrats and voter advocacy groups, said Wednesday that a deluge of opposition ads statewide might have swayed voters.
“I didn’t see any ads telling people to vote yes; I saw plenty of ads telling people to vote no,” New York Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Blair Horner said.
Horner said it’s possible that liberal leaders in New York, where Democrats hold legislative supermajorities, simply didn’t feel “energized” to launch a robust campaign.
What the majority of New York voters did agree on is the measure to create a right to “clean air and water” and “a healthful environment.” It marks a resurgence of an environmental movement dating to 1970, when Illinois adopted the first constitutional duty to maintain “a healthful environment.”
A Pennsylvania amendment approved the next year provided a specific right to “clean air" and "pure water." Other states with environmental rights in their constitutions include Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana and Rhode Island.
Supporters say enshrining a constitutional right to clean air and water will require the government to consider the environment in policy-making and give greater weight to people who sue over a failure to do so.
“This ballot measure will help improve the health of residents throughout the state — especially in low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution,” said Harold P. Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.
Critics, including some Republicans, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association and the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, say the constitutional right is too vague and will simply fuel costly lawsuits.