On November 7, New York State voters will head to the polls to make important decisions about local and state politics. All seats in the Tompkins County Legislature are up for election, and important positions on the District Supreme Court are being appointed around the state. Also, four propositions about city and state laws are on the ballot this year, and all have large repercussions that could influence state politics for years to come.
The Tompkins County Legislature may see significant changes after this election. While eleven of the fourteen seats are uncontested and will likely see incumbents remain in office, several close races have developed. The issues of jail expansion and over-taxation in Ithaca have led to many activist candidacies under the Working Families Party, a minor party that has endorsed Democrats in several county races. Additionally, with Representatives Carol Chock, Jim Dennis, Dooley Kiefer, Peter Stein, and Will Burbank not seeking re-election, Tompkins County has seen a revival of interest in local politics from residents who hadn’t seen hotly contested county elections in years.
Also, on November 7, six of New York’s thirteen judicial districts will be electing justices, and the judicial district encompassing Tompkins County has one spot up for election. Several counties make up each judicial district, and all voters in a district elect the jurists, given county judgeships in their district. These elections are very important—justices are elected for fourteen-year terms, and they make decisions on all civil court cases, as well as small criminal felonies. One judgeship is up for election in the Sixth District, which includes Tompkins County, and the election is unchallenged. Justice Jeffrey Tait, the incumbent Republican justice of the Broome County Supreme Court, is running unopposed in the election. However, a New York State law requires that judgeships are voted upon during the year in which their justice turns 70 years old. Because of his age, Tait will face re-election before the end of his fourteen-year term in 2031.
Finally, some of the most important decisions New York voters will be making will be in regards to new ballot propositions. The most debated proposition is Proposition 1, asking voters whether or not to hold a constitutional convention to update New York’s state constitution. If approved, a convention would take place in the summer of 2019, with electors representing each state senate district. With the last convention having taken place over fifty years ago, supporters of the convention argue that New York desperately needs the chance to make large changes to the cumbersome and increasingly obsolete document. Opponents argue that while the current system of governance is ineffective, a constitutional convention could allow outside forces, like lobbyists and the biases of elected officials, to have a large say over the future direction of New York. Additionally, a constitutional convention could result in a redistribution of power in the state’s legislative branch, benefiting either upstate New York or New York City depending on the outcome of the vote. The significance of this proposition, along with two other state amendments, means that the results of this election could have long lasting effects.
Voters in Ithaca and Tompkins County will have many important decisions to make when they go to the polls on November 7. While the Supreme Court position will very likely remain unchanged, the makeup of the Tompkins County legislature is set to change significantly after this election, and the state’s entire legal code may be rewritten if Proposition 1 wins a majority of votes. A lot is at stake in this election, making participation in local elections important now more than ever before.