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November ballot is topped by confusion

Be prepared for sewage on the ballot next week. No, not the candidates. I’m talking real, actual sewage – or at least the debt communities can take on to pay for building sewer plants.

Don’t forget about aging judges. They’ll be there, too, along with questions about mining in Essex County and an old dispute over Adirondack land.

Confused yet? Better now than when you step behind the cardboard privacy shield on Election Day.

New Yorkers this year might sympathize with third-graders sweating the standardized tests. Bubble questions on the ballot will include six proposed amendments to the State Constitution and 465 words to explain them all.

We might be in for a long haul if voters take their democratic duty seriously and carefully read through each question before casting their votes.

Don’t bet on it. What’s more likely is that the eyes of voters will glaze over as they work through questions on municipal debt limits and a company, NYCO Minerals, of which most voters probably have never heard.

This must be what it’s like to live in proposition-happy California, but without the perpetually sunny days and medical marijuana.

Luckily, the state has produced a series of handy explanations. For instance, there are two questions about land deals in the area commonly referred to as the Adirondacks, but you won’t see the word “Adirondack” in either of the state’s official summaries. And good luck deciphering proposal three, “Exclusion of Indebtedness Contracted for Sewage Facilities.”

Not to worry, though, since the state made sure to be clear and concise when it came to this year’s most controversial ballot question – whether to allow seven new casinos in the state. For that, the state needed just 51 words to summarize the question, a third of which are dedicated to the main selling points of jobs, schools and taxes.

State leaders – including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – want the new casinos and the slots revenue that will pad state spending, so they made sure the ballot was crystal clear on some of the arguments for allowing the new gambling halls. With overly optimistic ballot language, the state has boosted the odds in favor of passage.

That has angered casino opponents and annoyed good government groups, who argue that the language should have been stripped of the type of glitzy language better left for commercials.

“When you’re in the polling place, that should be a campaign-free zone,” said Blair Horner, legislative director of New York Public Interest Research Group. “The language should be clearly neutral and easy to understand.”

One thing is clear in the way the state developed the casino ballot language – we need to take a serious look at how these questions are written.

NYPIRG has started advocating for a change in the law that governs how ballot propositions are prepared.

“We think there needs to be clearer prohibition on the involvement of government as far as advocacy for these issues at the polling place,” Horner said.

It’s too late to fix the casino question, but it’s not too late to fix the referendum conundrum in the future.

As for those other ballot questions? There’s good information out there – including NYPIRG’s voter guide, which spells out the pros and cons for each proposition. So study up. Your Election Day exam awaits.