State Voters To Decide State Constitutional Convention

Every 20 years, state voters are given a ballot question to approve or deny holding a Constitutional Convention to make changes to the state constitution. The 2017 version of that question has brought both sides of the political isle to common ground – they agree to disagree.

On Nov. 7, voters will decide to approve or deny a state convention. It has been 50 years since the last convention was held. In 1997, state voters denied a convention by about 650,000 votes. If approved, a convention would allow residents to propose amendments to the New York State Constitution. If approved, the constitutional convention will be held in 2019. If a majority votes no, a convention won’t be held. The next vote will be in 2037.

Proponents of the convention say it is the best way to reform issues. Opponents say it is too costly and the process is unfair.

If approved, three delegates from each of the state’s 63 Senate districts and 15 state-wide at-large delegates would be elected. The delegates would be paid $79,500, the same as state legislators. Delegates would also be able to hire officers and staff for the convention. The convention would be held in Albany in April 2019. Any amendments approved would then need approval by state voters. Finally approved amendments would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Among those supporting the convention are the League of Women Voters, Citizens Union and the New York State Bar Association. Supporters say a convention empowers state residents and helps bring about reform. Among the planned proposals to the Constitution are preventing changes to employee pension contributions, establishing an environmental bill of rights and an equal rights for women amendment. Also on the list are ethic reforms after criticism that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state law-makers have been unwilling to adopt new standards of ethics.

While on opposite sides of just about every issue the state Conservative Party and the Working Families Party oppose the convention.

Conservatives say the cost would be a waste of tax-payer money. Officials said the convention would cost between 50 million and 100 million dollars and perhaps more.

Others said the delegate election is unfair because of district gerrymandering which would cause the election of people with an agenda of their own and not one reflecting the will of the people.

Gun ownership and civil liberty issues could be changed, reduced or eliminated, according to opponents of the convention. In addition, they say down-state politicians would control the process, shutting down delegates from less populated regions.