Monday, October 9, 2017

Referendum Prep: Constitutional Convention

Among the signs cropping up everywhere in the days approaching election day are a few advocating a No vote on a constitutional convention. 

Some of the signs offer no clue about their origin; one of them--the one shown in the picture immediately above--does: If you go to that website, which is attributed to a group called New Yorkers Against Corruption, you will find allegations that a constitutional convention would be a "Politicians' Convention" and a "multi-million dollar boondoggle funded by tax payer money" that would threaten the rights of working families and promote the interests of the wealthy elite. There is even the claim that the referendum question is being put on the back of ballot (where such questions always appear) on purpose to make it less likely voters will see it and vote on it. 

There is also a pro-convention group (which apparently isn't passing out lawn signs--at least, not around here) called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention. This group argues that constitutional reform is needed to combat entrenched interests and make constitutional improvements that would, among other things, address legislative dysfunction and corruption and update the state's flawed electoral process.

Our current state constitution requires that every twenty years the voters of New York decide, by referendum, whether or not to hold a convention to amend the constitution. In 1997, the last time there was such a referendum, it failed. There was a constitutional convention in the 1960s, but the changes to the constitution it recommended were ultimately rejected by the voters. The last time there was a successful constitutional convention was in the 1930s.
Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), did a commentary on WAMC last summer about the upcoming referendum, which serves as a good primer to the constitutional convention: "The Fight Over the Constitutional Convention Heats Up." In it, Horner outlines the process going forward were the referendum to succeed. But success is hardly assured. A recent Sienna College poll indicated that the number of voters supporting the constitutional convention is about equal to the number opposing it, and the opposition brings together some strange bedfellows--Planned Parenthood, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the Conservative Party, public- and private-sector unions, and environmental groups, to name a few.

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