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Debunking some myths about NY's ballot questions

There is some misinformation on social media regarding a key ballot item in next month’s elections on whether to hold a constitutional convention.

New Yorkers have a choice of voting yes or no on three proposition questions on the November ballot. A posting that has gone viral on social media is spreading some misinformation to voters. It warns against what it said is a “sneaky and underhanded” rule regarding the question on Proposition One — whether New York should hold a constitutional convention.

“Please be aware,” the post begins, that “if you leave the question blank, it's an AUTOMATIC YES, so please vote NO.”

A spokesman for the state Board of Elections, John Conklin, said that is absolutely not true.

“Only a yes vote is a yes vote,” Conklin said.

Conklin said the Board of Elections has received a number of questions about the issue, and he’s even devised a standard email to explain the rules, which are set in state statute. He said if voters choose not to weigh in on the question or don’t see the question, the lack of response is not counted for either side.

“If you leave it blank, it’s a blank vote,” Conklin said.

The social media post goes on to warn that public employees like teachers, police officers and firefighters “stand to lose a great deal” if the convention were to happen.

On Facebook, the post links to a blog affiliated with the group Union Communications Consulting Services that posts news about unions and other topics. The group did not respond to a request for comment. The blog post itself does not repeat the falsehood that if the constitutional convention ballot question is left blank, it counts as a yes. It instead lists several reasons for voting against the measure.

There are two other ballot propositions in next month’s elections. One would allow a judge to revoke the pensions of elected officials who are convicted of felonies. Another would ease rules for road repair work in the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves.

But there’s more false information making the social media rounds regarding those ballot questions. And that is: If voters do not answer the three proposition questions listed on one side of the ballot, then the digital scanner will not register the ballot at all. Conklin said that is also not true.

“That’s called an under vote,” Conklin said. “If you leave any office blank, it will accept it.”

Conklin said the scanner will reject a ballot that includes an “over vote,” where the voter chooses more than one candidate for an office or gives multiple answers to a ballot question. The machine then gives the voter a chance to correct their mistake and resubmit the ballot.

“If you under vote, it will accept it, because that is viewed as being an intentional choice by the voters,” he said.

Conklin said the Board of Elections is trying to minimize the number of people who miss the ballot questions altogether. Every polling place must display instructions that say there are two sides to each ballot this year. Voters can choose, without any consequences, whether to fill them both out, he said.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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