Citizen Ballot Initiatives

For decades, the people of New York State have indicated the same concerns on major issues – in 1994, George Pataki rode to a massive upset of Governor Mario Cuomo on a clear platform of cutting taxes and reducing crime. Today, the two issues voters indicated are of the greatest concern in the Voter Empowerment Index? You guessed it, taxes and crime!

The top issues for New York voters are crime and public safety (47%) and taxes and the economy (38%)

How we got here

Most legislative changes made in New York and around the nation are done through representative democracy – in which voters select representatives, who then are charged with passing laws. However, in about half of US states, there are forms of Direct Democracy available through citizen ballot initiatives.

However, at the state level, lawmakers have consistently failed to enact initiatives in New York, choosing instead to cling to power themselves. Interestingly, this form of direct democracy is available at the local level of government throughout the state through permissive referendum.

Why it’s a problem

Thousands of bills are introduced into the New York State Legislature every year, yet the legislation actually enacted isn’t  addressing the issues most New Yorkers have called the most important for more than 20 years. Even though voters think the state is on the wrong track (47-37%), and the state legislature is regularly ranked as one of the least popular, least effective, and least trusted in the United States, the issues most important to New York voters simply are not being addressed.

Amplify your voice

Why we need it

The initiative process would allow voters in New York to bypass the state legislature and place proposed legislation directly on the ballot for approval. Similarly, referendum would allow voters to approve or repeal an act of the legislature. Dozens of states have some form of these popular direct democracy processes in place. As noted above, in New York State, many actions taken by local and town governments can be made subject to a permissive referendum, so clearly the process can work effectively and efficiently. Initiative and referendum would put power in the hands of the of the voters of New York State, providing greater accountability to our state legislature.

How to get it

Enabling initiative and referendum at the statewide level would require a constitutional amendment, so state legislation authorizing this reform would need to be passed by two separately elected legislatures, then, ironically, ratified by voters as a ballot question.

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“Our political system isn’t broken.
It’s fixed.”

Katherine Gehl

Unite NY is tracking legislation in New York that will drive real change and improve our democracy. Check these bills out and let your Senator or Assemblymember know you support this legislation too!  Use these links to find your NYS Senator or find your NYS Assemblymember.


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