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Stories about New York

Special election approaches Feb. 23 in New York City Council District 31

The special general election for New York City Council District 31 is on February 23, 2021. Nine candidates are competing in the special election. The filing deadline to run passed on December 16, 2020. 

The special election was called when Donovan Richards left office after he was elected Queens Borough President in November. Richards served on the city council from 2013 to 2020.

The February 23 election will be the second election in New York City to use a ranked-choice voting system. In 2019, New Yorkers passed a ballot measure that instituted ranked-choice voting in special elections to local offices.

In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. 

Ranked-choice voting in New York City is the subject of an ongoing court challenge. On December 16, 2020, a state trial court declined to block the implementation of ranked-choice voting, but the decision is being appealed.  

The New York City Council consists of 51 members. New York is the largest city by population in the U.S.

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New York voters to decide constitutional amendment about environmental rights in November

Voters in New York will decide a ballot measure to add a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment to the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The ballot measure would make New York the third state, after Pennsylvania and Montana, to adopt an environmental rights amendment. Pennsylvania and Montana both adopted their amendments in the 1970s.

In New York, a constitutional amendment requires approval in two successive legislation sessions to go on the ballot. Legislators approved the proposal in 2019 and 2021. On January 12, 2021, the state Senate voted 48 to 14 to approve the amendment. Senate Democrats supported the proposal, and Senate Republicans were divided 6 to 14. On February 8, the state Assembly voted 124 to 25, with support from all Democrats, 17 Republicans, and the chamber’s one Independence Party member.

The 15-word constitutional amendment reads: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

State Sen. Robert Jackson (D-31) sponsored the proposal in the Senate. He said, “This language will finally put in place safeguards that require the government to consider the environment and our relationship to the Earth in decision making. If the government fails in that responsibility, New Yorkers will finally have the right to take legal action for a clean environment because it will be in the State Constitution.”

State Sen. Dan Stec (R-45), who voted against the constitutional amendment, stated, “I’m all for clean air and clean water. Who isn’t? But in the face of ambiguity you will have distrust, you will have lawsuits, you will have costs, and I’m trying to avoid that.”

The election on November 2, 2021, could feature as many as six amendments to the New York Constitution. The Environmental Rights Amendment is the second approved for the ballot after legislators referred a redistricting measure on January 20, 2021. Since 1995, New Yorkers have approved 76.0% (19 of 25) of the constitutional amendments that have appeared on their ballots.

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Anthony Brindisi (D) concedes in New York’s 22nd Congressional District election

Incumbent Anthony Brindisi (D) conceded the election to represent New York’s 22nd Congressional District on Feb. 8, 2021, to Claudia Tenney (R). His concession follows several months of legal challenges from Brindisi and Tenney over the validity of certain absentee and affidavit ballots cast in the Nov. 3, 2020, election.

Brindisi announced his concession hours after the New York Board of Elections voted to certify the results of the election. Tenney led by 109 votes.

In a statement, Brindisi said: “Today I congratulated Claudia Tenney and offered to make the transition process as smooth as possible on behalf of our community. […] It is time to close the book on this election and focus on building a better community and more united country for our children.”

Tenney responded to Brindisi’s Feb. 8 concession in a tweet: “I really appreciate Anthony’s call today and thank him for his service. He graciously offered to help ensure a smooth transition and I look forward to working with him over the coming days to complete that process on behalf of everyone in NY22.”

To read more about the legal proceedings in New York’s 22nd Congressional District, click here.



New York voters to decide redistricting-related constitutional amendment at the 2021 general election

Voters in New York will decide at least one constitutional amendment at the election on November 2, 2021. On January 20, 2021, the State Assembly approved an amendment that would make changes to the redistricting process in New York, including for the redistricting cycle based on the 2020 U.S. Census. The state Senate approved the amendment on January 12. Both legislative chambers also approved the amendment in 2020. The New York Constitution requires that constitutional amendments be approved during two successive legislative sessions before going to voters.

In the state Senate, the vote was 42 to 20. Senate Democrats voted ‘yes’ on the amendment, and Senate Republicans voted ‘no’ on the amendment. In the state Assembly, the vote was 100 to 50. Most Assembly Democrats (99 of 106) voted ‘yes’ on the amendment, and seven Democrats and all 43 Republicans voted ‘no’ on the amendment.

New Yorkers last voted on, and approved, a redistricting ballot measure in 2014, titled Proposal 1. It established a 10-member redistricting commission to design congressional and state legislative maps and send them to the state legislature for an up-or-down vote. Under Proposal 1, the state Legislature cannot amend the redistricting plans unless two separate sets of plans are rejected. Eight of the redistricting commission’s members are appointed by majority and minority party legislative leaders. These eight members appoint the remaining two members, who cannot be registered with the two largest legislative officeholding political parties in the state. Based on the current partisan makeup of the state Legislature, the commission is designed to include four Democratic-appointed commissioners, four Republican-appointed commissioners, and two commissioners who are not Democrats or Republicans. The 2021 proposal would not change the makeup of the commission. 

This year’s constitutional amendment would change vote requirements for the commission and legislature to adopt plans. Proposal 1 of 2014 created vote requirements based on party control of the legislature. For the commission, seven of 10 commissioners must agree to a plan for it to pass. If party control of the legislature is divided, at least one member appointed by the Senate temporary president and one member appointed by the Assembly Speaker must vote for the plan. If one party controls both legislative chambers, at least one member appointed by each of the two majority party leaders and two minority party leaders must vote for the plan. The 2021 amendment would eliminate the requirements that specific appointees support the plans. Instead, approval by seven members would be required regardless of who appointed those seven members. 

Under Proposal 1, a simple majority vote is required in the state legislature to adopt maps if legislative control is divided. If one party controls both chambers, a two-thirds majority is required. Currently, Democrats control both chambers of the legislature. The 2021 amendment would require a simple majority vote regardless of how party power is distributed in the legislature.

The 2021 amendment would make additional changes to the redistricting process in New York. The ballot measure would cap the number of state senators at 63, which was the number of state senators as of 2021. New York would be required to count residents of the entire state, including people who are residents but not citizens, should the federal census fail to do so. New York would also be required to count incarcerated persons at the place of their last residence for redistricting purposes. The ballot measure would remove the block-on-border requirement for state Senate districts. It would also change the timeline for redistricting, moving up several dates, and remove inoperative language from the constitution. 

The New York State Legislature could place several other constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2021, including several related to electoral policy and an environmental rights amendment.

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Filing deadline approaches in New York City Council special elections

Candidates interested in running in the special elections for New York City Council Districts 11 and 15 have until January 19, 2021, to file. The general election is scheduled for March 23.

The special election in District 11 was called after Andrew Cohen (D) won the November election for New York Supreme Court 12th Judicial District. Cohen served on the council from 2013 to 2021. 

In District 15, the special election was called when Ritchie Torres (D) was elected to represent New York’s 15th Congressional District in the U.S. House. Torres served from 2013 to 2021.

In 2019, New Yorkers passed a ballot measure that instituted ranked-choice voting in special elections to local offices. In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. 

Ranked-choice voting in New York City is the subject of an ongoing court challenge. On December 16, 2020, a state trial court declined to block the implementation of ranked-choice voting in a February city council special election. The decision is currently being appealed.  

The New York City Council consists of 51 members. New York is the largest city by population in the U.S.

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State supreme court vacancies in 2021

So far in 2021, there have been two new state supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have both been caused by retirements. 

In Colorado, Chief Justice Nathan Coats retired on January 1, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) appointed Maria Berkenkotter to the Colorado Supreme Court on November 20, 2020. Berkenkotter is Polis’ first nominee to the seven-member supreme court. In South Dakota, Chief Justice David Gilbertson retired in early January, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 years old. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) appointed Scott P. Myren to the South Dakota Supreme Court on October 28, 2020.

Currently, Maine is the only appointment state which had a vacancy in 2020 which has yet to be filled.

Three more states will see vacancies from retirement on their state supreme courts in 2021:

• Joel Bolger, June 30, 2021, Alaska

• Leslie Stein, June 4, 2021, New York

• Eugene Fahey, December 31, 2021, New York

In Alaska, the vacancy will be filled by Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy. Both of the vacancies on the New York Supreme Court will be filled by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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Election still undecided in New York’s 22nd Congressional District

Results in the Nov. 3 U.S. House election in New York’s 22nd Congressional District have not yet been certified. The latest vote count, completed on Dec. 30, showed former Rep. Claudia Tenney (R) with a 29-vote lead over incumbent Anthony Brindisi (D). This race was one of 56 U.S. House rematches from 2018, when Brindisi defeated Tenney 51% to 49%.

Litigation over the validity of certain absentee and affidavit ballots began the day following the election and is ongoing. Problems with mislaid ballots, missing documentation of ballot challenges, and errors in vote tabulation slowed the process.

Oswego County Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte has not made a final ruling on these issues, and official results have not been certified. DelConte also asked both campaigns to file legal briefs by Jan. 14 on 2,418 voter registration applications submitted through the Department of Motor Vehicles that the county board of elections did not process before election day. These voters had the option to cast an affidavit ballot, but these ballots weren’t counted since it appeared the voters weren’t registered. At least 63 affidavit ballots from this group are being reviewed.

Final oral arguments on all court proceedings in the case are scheduled for Jan. 22.

Here are some other recent elections where the result was not confirmed until weeks after the elections:

  1. In 2018, the North Carolina Board of Elections did not certify the results in the 9th Congressional District race and voted unanimously to call for a new election on Feb. 21, 2019. Rep. Dan Bishop (R) won the special election on Sept. 10, 2019. 
  2. In the 2016 North Carolina governor’s race, incumbent Pat McCrory (R) conceded on Dec. 5, 2016, after a recount in Durham County verified that Roy Cooper (D) would remain ahead. 
  3. In 2014, Martha McSally (R) was declared the winner over incumbent Ron Barber (D) in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District at the conclusion of a recount on Dec. 17, 2014.



Democrats gain veto-proof legislative majorities in two states, leaving them with eight to Republicans’ 16

Democrats gained veto-proof state legislative majorities in Delaware and New York in the Nov. 3 elections. This increases the number of state legislatures with a veto-proof majority in both chambers from 22 to 24: 16 held by Republicans and eight held by Democrats. 

Democrats had a veto-proof majority in both states’ lower legislative chambers heading into the election and gained veto-proof majorities in both state senates.

Veto-proof majorities are most important when the other party controls the governorship. This creates more opportunities for legislatures to override gubernatorial vetoes.

Heading into 2020, there were four states where the governor was a member of a different political party than the veto-proof majority: Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Maryland. All but Maryland held legislative elections in 2020. As a result of the 2020 elections, Republicans maintained veto-proof majorities in Kansas and Kentucky, and Democrats maintained their veto-proof majority in Massachusetts. No governorships in these states were up for election in 2020.

Ballotpedia identified five states with state legislative elections in 2020 that had the potential to gain a veto-proof majority of the party opposite the governor: Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Neither party gained a veto-proof majority in any of these state legislatures. 

Forty-four states held regularly-scheduled state legislative elections on Nov 3. At the time of the election, there were 22 state legislatures where one party had a veto-proof majority in both chambers; 16 held by Republicans and six held by Democrats. Twenty of those states held legislative elections in 2020.

Although it has the potential to create conflict, the veto override power is rarely used. According to political scientists Peverill Squire and Gary Moncrief in 2010, only about five percent of vetoes are overridden. 

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Elections in New York’s 22nd and Iowa’s 2nd set to have narrower margins of victory than any 2018 Congressional race

As of December 9, the results of two U.S. House elections remain uncertain. The election in New York’s 22nd Congressional District is too close to call amid an ongoing legal challenge surrounding partial recounts. In Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) was certified as the winner by state election officials as winning by a margin of six votes. Runner-up Rita Hart (D) announced she would contest the results before the U.S. House’s Administration Committee. Both elections are on track to be among the closest Congressional races in recent decades.

In 2018, 1,894 elections within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope were decided by margins of 10 percentage points or fewer, including primaries where candidates won election outright.

Broken down by level of office, 105 of these races were federal, 1,217 were state-level, and 572 were local.

Federal races in 2018 were decided by a smaller average margin-of-victory (MOV) than in any even-year elections since 2012. The narrowest MOV in 2018 was 0.12 percentage points in Florida’s U.S. Senate election.

At the state level, the narrowest MOV was 0.008 percentage points in the election for Kentucky House of Representatives District 13. Among local races within our coverage scope, the narrowest margin was 0.017 percentage points in the election for one of Maricopa County’s seats on the Central Arizona Water Conservation board.

There were 258 races decided by margins under one percentage point in 2018. This includes 20 races where the MOV was ten votes or fewer. Two races in 2018 were decided by a single vote: the election for District 1 of the Alaska House of Representatives and the election for District 13 of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

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Democrats gain veto-proof majority in New York State Senate

Democrats gained a veto-proof majority in the New York State Senate after enough remaining races were called over the weekend to bring them to a two-thirds majority in the chamber. Democrats already held a veto-proof majority in the state Assembly. In New York, two-thirds of members in both chambers must vote to override a veto, which is 100 of the 150 members in the New York State Assembly and 42 of the 63 members in the New York State Senate.

The status of a veto-proof majority has changed in four states as a result of the 2020 elections. These results are subject to change as more votes are counted and elections are certified.

– In Connecticut, Democrats gained a veto-proof majority in the state Senate.

– In Delaware, Democrats maintained a veto-proof majority in the state House and gained a veto-proof majority in the state Senate.

– In Nevada, Democrats lost a veto-proof majority in the state Assembly. 

– In New York, Democrats maintained a veto-proof majority in the state Assembly and gained a veto-proof majority in the state Senate.

The veto override power can play a role in conflicts between state legislatures and governors. Conflict can occur when legislatures vote to override gubernatorial vetoes or in court cases related to vetoes and the override power. Although it has the potential to create conflict, the veto override power is rarely used. According to political scientists Peverill Squire and Gary Moncrief in 2010, only about five percent of vetoes are overridden.

Prior to April 2018, factions in the New York State Senate included the mainline Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and an offshoot of the Democratic Party called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Republicans controlled the chamber from 2012 to 2018 through an alliance with the IDC and Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder. In April 2018, the eight members of the IDC rejoined the mainline Democratic conference, but Felder stayed with the Republicans, giving them an effective 32-31 majority in the chamber. In the November 2018 elections, Democrats expanded their majority to 40-23, giving them full control of the state Senate for the second time since 1964.

Forty-four states held regularly-scheduled state legislative elections on Nov 3. At the time of the election, there were 22 state legislatures where one party had a veto-proof majority in both chambers; 16 held by Republicans and six held by Democrats. Twenty of those states held legislative elections in 2020.

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