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Odd-year ballot raises important questions

Volunteers stop people outside the Tompkins County Public Library
“It’s a little bit frustrating,” said Susan Multer, “Most of them don’t want to talk to anybody about anything. … I try to go to them, because they sure don’t stop to see what we’re all about.”

Standing outside the Tompkins County Public Library on Sep. 28, Multer stops library patrons to ask if they are registered to vote. She said most are, so she adds a second question: “Can you think of any friend you have who might not be registered?”

Multer then tries to offer the passersby a registration form to take with them for others they know. The forms do not expire, so she tells people to keep it in their car year-round.

Multer is a member of the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County, and she volunteered to help people register to vote on National Voter Registration Day. The league set up tables outside the Tompkins County Public Library, Tompkins Cortland Community College, and on the Cornell University Arts Quad.

This year does not boast a presidential or midterm election, but there are still important issues on the ballot in New York. On Nov. 2, voters will decide if five proposed amendments to the New York Constitution will be implemented.

An infographic on a blue background explaining the five statewide ballot issues up for decision on Nov. 2, 2021Diane Conneman, volunteer, said that ballot measures often confuse voters, and the league tries to help clarify.

“One of the other things we have that I think is really interesting is a pamphlet with the propositions that are on the ballot this year,” she said. “That’s all that stuff that’s on the back [of the ballot] and you’re like, ‘oh, what does that mean?’ There’s an explanation of what they all mean.”

Dryden resident Jeanette DeVita just moved to Tompkins County over the summer. She transferred her registration to stay involved in local politics.

“There are some questions about eminent domain where we live, and about trying to build more pedestrian spaces,” DeVita said, “So I would like to make sure I’m voting the right way for that.”

Dryden town officials have proposed extending the Dryden Rail Trail using land bought from residents through eminent domain. The extension would also include a pedestrian bridge across Route 13 using $2 million in state and federal grant money.

Some Dryden residents oppose the bridge, others are against the use of eminent domain to obtain land for the trail. Town Supervisor, Highway Superintendent, and two town councilperson positions are up on the ballot in Dryden, and the outcome of the election could change the course of the bridge project.

A women sits at a table covered with a blue table cloth filling out a voter registration form
Jeanette DeVita transfers her voter registration to Tompkins County at the table set up by volunteers from the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County (Elizabeth Henning/Ithaca Week)

Municipal elections often occur during “off-years” or years that do not have a presidential or midterm election. There is a growing movement of political commentators to move municipal elections to coincide with national elections to increase voter turnout.

Proponents argue that shifting the year would increase voter turnout and provide a decision that better represents the public. Zoltan L. Hajnal, professor of political science at the University of California San Diego, wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times that, “politically active conservative, wealthy, older, white voters have disproportionate sway over local government,” have a greater sway over local government.

Multer added that the league also works to increase rates of voter turnout.

“Most people are already registered, and we like that,” she said. “We have literature right here … to make access to voting easier, safer, quicker, and not lose people who want to vote but don’t know where and how to do it.”

stacks of papers and pamphlets sit on the end of a table covered with a blue tablecloth
Pamphlets and other informational materials for voters at the volunteers’ table outside the library (Elizabeth Henning/Ithaca Week)

Featured image by Elizabeth Henning for Ithaca Week

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