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Stories about New York

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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New York Court of Appeals Justice Eugene Fahey announces retirement

On November 10, 2020, State of New York Court of Appeals Justice Eugene Fahey announced his retirement from the court, scheduled for December 31, 2021, when he reaches the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.

Justice Fahey joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 2015. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Before serving on the state supreme court, Fahey served on the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division from December 22, 2006, until 2015. He served on the court’s Criminal Division in 2005. Fahey was elected to the State Supreme Court in 1996, where he also presided over cases in Erie County and the 8th Judicial District. He served on the court until 2005. Fahey was elected to the Buffalo City Court in 1994 and served until 1996. He served as a law clerk to Judge Edgar C. NeMoyer in the New York Court of Claims before entering private practice in 1985, where he served as house counsel for Kemper Insurance Company until 1993. Fahey served on the Buffalo Common Council from 1978 to 1983 and again from 1988 to 1994.

Fahey earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo, cum laude, in 1974. He earned a J.D. in 1984 and a master’s degree in European history in 1998.

The seven justices of the New York Court of Appeals serve 14-year terms. They are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission, pending confirmation from the New York Senate.

The current chief justice of the court is Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015. 

The remaining four active justices of the court are:

• Jenny Rivera – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2013

• Michael Garcia – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2016

• Rowan Wilson – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

• Paul Feinman – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

Associate Justice Leslie Stein is also scheduled to retire from the court in 2021, on June 4. At the time of the announcement, no reason was given for Stein’s retirement.

As of November 16, 2020, there are four supreme court vacancies scheduled to occur in 2021 in three of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were triggered by retirements.

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Justice on New York’s highest court schedules retirement

On November 3, 2020, State of New York Court of Appeals Justice Leslie Stein announced her retirement from the court, scheduled for June 4, 2021. At the time of the announcement, no reason for Stein’s retirement was given.

Justice Stein joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 2015. She was appointed to the court by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Before serving on the state supreme court, Stein was a judge with the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (Third Department) from 2008 to 2015. From 2001 to 2008, she served as a judge with the New York Supreme Court 3rd Judicial District. During that time, she served as an administrative judge of the Rensselaer County Integrated Domestic Violence Part from 2006 to 2008 and as the chair of the 3rd Judicial District Gender Fairness Committee from 2001 to 2005. Stein served as a city court judge with the Albany City Court from 1997 to 2001. She also served as an acting family court judge in 2001. From 1983 to 1997, Stein worked as a private practice lawyer. In 1981, Stein worked as a confidential law clerk for the Schenectady County Family Court.

Stein earned an undergraduate degree from Macalester College in 1978. She earned a J.D. from the Albany Law School in 1981.

The seven justices of the New York Court of Appeals serve 14-year terms. They are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission, pending confirmation from the New York Senate. The New York Court of Appeals is the state’s court of last resort.

The current chief justice of the court is Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015. 

The remaining five active justices of the court are:

  • Jenny Rivera – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2013
  • Eugene Fahey – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015
  • Michael Garcia – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2016
  • Rowan Wilson – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017
  • Paul Feinman – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

As of November 9, 2020, there are three supreme court vacancies scheduled to occur in 2021 in three of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements.

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Andy King expelled from New York City Council

The New York City Council voted 48-2 on October 5 to expel Councilman Andy King (D) for harassment and discrimination, conflicts of interest, disorderly conduct, and other violations. King represented the 12th district and was first elected in 2012.

A two-thirds vote is required to expel a city council member. The city council press office confirmed that this is the first time a council member has been voted off the council without a criminal conviction. King filed a lawsuit on October 5 in federal court challenging his expulsion.

The council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics had previously brought ethics investigations against King in February 2018 and in October 2019. The 2019 proceeding resulted in a 30-day suspension for King and a $15,000 fine. The council vote to expel King in that matter was defeated, 34-12.

In a statement, Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, “I agree with the recommendations of the Standard and Ethics Committee. Council Member King should be expelled from office. This is not a decision to be made lightly, but Council Member King has given us no alternative.”

King’s attorney filed suit against the council in federal court on October 5, 2020. King said, “Plaintiff is the first in the history of the New York City Council to be expelled without a separate concurrent criminal conviction.”

The New York City Council is composed of 51 members. The current partisan composition is 46 Democrats and three Republicans with two vacancies. The city’s charter requires Mayor Bill de Blasio to schedule a special election to fill the vacancy left by King.

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