Today we get to vote in citywide elections for mayor, city council, public advocate and judgeships. On the ballot’s flip side, voters will also find three proposals worthy of their consideration.
The first – and most discussed – proposal calls for holding a convention to amend the state constitution: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” A YES vote is for holding the convention; a NO vote is for not holding it.
The last state constitutional convention was held in 1967, before the law was amended to require a state-wide vote on whether to hold a convention every twenty years. In 1997, voters turned down a convention. If New York votes not to a convention now, it won’t have another chance to vote for a convention until 2037.
Even without a convention, however, state lawmakers can still amend the constitution through legislative action – as they have done 200 times in the last hundred years.
If the proposal passes, the law calls for electing 15 statewide delegates and three from every State Senate district. Candidates have a year to campaign and then would stand for election in November of 2018. Active state legislators are eligible to be convention delegates, and could be expected to win based on their status as incumbents.
The convention would start the following April. Delegates would be paid the same as state legislators (who could receive two salaries). Delegates have the opportunity to review, amend and make changes to the constitution. They can rewrite it entirely.
Proposed constitutional amendments would be voted upon by the delegates, and only those which receive a majority of votes would then be put before state voters in November 2019.
Opponents of the convention believe current constitution protections for retirees, education, public pensions and the environment – particularly Article 14’s prohibition on developing or exploiting state-owned wilderness areas in the Catskills and Adirondacks – might be weakened or eliminated.
The New York Federation of Teachers calls Proposition No. 1 a “con,” and says “shady interests are financing a campaign to encourage New Yorkers to vote yes because they want to rewrite our state’s laws for their benefit.”
The Working Families Party points out that the process for electing delegates might not be fair: “our State Senate districts were gerrymandered specifically to elect as many Republicans as possible. Even though there are more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans in New York State, Republicans still hold 31 seats in the 63 member Senate chamber.”
On the other side, Michael Long, Chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, says: “I experienced the Constitutional Convention in 1967 and it was a disaster. Establishment politicians and Albany insiders will hijack the process and abuse their power as delegates,”
For a more thorough explanation of the issues involved and the views of those who favor holding a convention and those who oppose it, see Ross Barkin’s excellent review.
The second proposal on the ballot would allow the forfeiture of a public official’s pensions if he or she is convicted of a felony.
The third and last proposal will amend the consitution’s Forever Wild guarantee for state wilderness lands to allow for the creation of a small “land bank,” that would allow the state to trade otherwise protected land for additional land in instances where there is no other alternative for the provision of basic municipal and other services.
Even the Adirondack wilderness’s most vocal defender, Peter Bauer, favors this proposal.