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Informing voters is essential

February 26, 2015
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes to eliminate newspaper public notices of proposed constitutional amendments and ballot questions. Instead of the notices being delivered to voters via newspapers statewide, they would only have to be posted on the state Board of Elections and Department of State websites before an election, for three days.

Only a handful of people will bother to sift through those government websites. Meanwhile, newspapers have been giving communities important information for a century or more, telling people not only what they want to know but also what they need to know, delivered right to their homes.

It's the difference between a "push medium," which delivers information to you, and a "pull medium," in which you have to go to the trouble of digging in to search for what you want.

For example, the governor wants to enact a constitutional amendment to strip public pensions from legislators convicted of crimes. We support that, but this public notices bill would make that amendment available only on obscure websites, making it drudgery for voters to see.

It's proven that voters turn to newspapers to find information they can trust. Public notices add to this information on subjects such as elections, new businesses, school budgets, public works projects and zoning issues, and are accessible in print and online so it reaches everyone.

At a time when we need more transparency and accountability in state government, this move will make it worse. It's tied in with two other proposals we feel less strongly about: to stop requiring the state Board of Elections to print and distribute the full Election Law text to every county every year, and to stop requiring the publication of certified election results as legal notices in newspapers long after those papers have reported the results in their news sections.

Altogether, those three proposals are supposed to save state taxpayers $342,000 a year, which isn't much in light of a multi-billion-dollar budget: less than 7 pennies for each of New York's 5 million daily newspaper readers, and a little more than 3 cents for each of the state's 10 million registered voters. Saving this pittance is not worth such a major sacrifice in informing the citizens, especially since it would especially hurt local small businesses and employers: newspapers and their advertisers.

Then there is the problem for those to access a website, especially in places with patchy Internet service. While Gov. Cuomo recently proposed a $500 million investment in broadband Internet infrastructure, this would take years to complete. Plus, those who can't afford a computer or Internet service will be denied important notices.

Newspapers already have public notices available in print, as well as uploaded daily online on a statewide, searchable website. The New York News Publishers Association, New York Press Association and the New York Law Review sponsor the website,

Newspapers inform more citizens better than government media, regardless of the platform.

We strongly oppose the governor's proposal to eliminate newspaper public notices of constitutional amendments because it furthers narrows voters access to information. We hope voters will oppose the Public Protection and General Government Article VII bill, Part F of budget bills A3005 and S2005. Keep the state pushing information to you rather than expecting you to know what you need to pull out of its websites.



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