Voters will decide whether to hold constitutional convention

August 07, 2017 06:53 PM

ALBANY -- It is a chance that only comes along every 20 years. Voters in November will have the opportunity to call a constitutional convention.  Those who want you to vote 'yes,' say it is the only way to fix a dysfunctional state government, while opponents are saying a convention could take out key provisions.

The League of Women Voters are the optimists, saying a constitutional convention is your chance to address update the 1894 document, addressing ethics and election law.  

"Lawmakers have had such a dramatic opportunity to do something, and the public is clamoring, and they don't care," said Dare Thompson, League of Women Voters President.

Environmentalists, the Farm Bureau, NYSUT, NYCLU, and a long list of other groups are all worrying about the things a constitutional convention could take away. Each sees elements of the constitution that are very important to their cause.

"There are many many provisions of the constitution that protect civil liberties and those are the ones that particularly vulnerable," said Melanie Trimble, NYCLU.

"If you have a convention, some of those rights and provisions that are important to our farmers potentially could be eroded," said Steve Ammerman, Farm Bureau.

It's the uncertainty of it all that worries some groups. There are concerns about delegate selection and the changes those people will come up with.

Government watchdog Blair Horner is staying neutral.

"There's nothing you can do to limit what the delegates could work on. They can do anything they want," said Horner, NYPIRG. "The delegates could throw out the constitution and come up with a brand new one. But the voters would ultimately have to approve those changes."

Here's how it works:

If voters say yes to a constitutional convention this fall, voters will vote on delegates in the 2018 general election.  Each state senate district will choose three.  15 will be selected state-wide.  

In Spring 2019, the 204 delegates will meet in Albany and propose whatever they want. There is no time limit on their convention.

Voters would have to approve any changes to the constitution in another election.

The state constitution requires the constitutional convention question to be on the ballot every 20 years. The last constitutional convention was in 1967. The legislature called for that one.

And after all was said and done and the proposed changes went to the voters, the people voted to change nothing.

Then there's the cost of a constitutional convention. The 204 delegates would be paid the same wages as legislators for however long the convention lasts.



Asa Stackel

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