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City's Ballot Language Called Into Question

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When New Yorkers go to the polls this November, they’ll be asked to vote on several changes to the structure of city government. But now, serious concerns are being raised about the way those questions appear on the ballot. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

Altogether, there are basically eight changes to the city charter voters will be deciding on this November. The most familiar has to do with term limits for the mayor and other city officials; the other seven will all be bundled together in one yes-or-no question, meaning you vote to approve all seven or none at all.

"That makes no sense to me. Democracy is one man, one vote. Not one vote, seven separate questions," said City Councilman Peter Vallone.

Those seven issues are relatively obscure issues like merging the city’s administrative tribunals, and reducing the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot. The city’s Charter Revision Commission approved the ballot questions last month, saying it had to combine them because of limited space on the new paper ballots being used this year for the first time.

At a City Council hearing Wednesday, Board of Elections officials said there is no space issue.

"Whatever we can fit on that size on that paper, in accordance with the law, will be printed. If it has to spill over into a second sheet, it will go on into a second sheet," said New York City Board of Elections Executive Director George Gonzalez.

The Charter commission says election officials told them using two pages would be impossible. The ballot questions have already been officially submitted, and Council members say they could be challenged in court. Then there is the separate issue of overvoting, when you mistakenly vote for more than one candidate in the same race. Rather than reject your ballot, new machines give you the choice to cast your ballot anyway, without making clear your vote in that race will be invalidated.

"Intuitively, it could be confusing for a voter. Because the green light is generally what you want to go with. And in that case, you would be casting your vote, and your vote in that contest would not count," said Kate Doran of the New York City League of Women Voters.

A lawsuit regarding the overvoting question is currently before the courts. But time is running short to make any changes to that system or to the charter revision questions.

The general election will be held on November 2.

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