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New Yorkers Can Vote to Amend the State's Constitution This November

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New York State -

Every 20 years, New York State allow voters to amend the State Constitution by holding a Convention and on November 7, 2017, they will be asked whether or not they would like to do so and potentially update it for the first time since 1938.

"If they vote no, end of story. If they vote yes then they would elect delegates a year later and the delegates would then convene in Albany and re-write the State Constitution, which would then be presented back to the voters for final approval," said Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPERG) Executive Director.

The first State Constitution was written in 1777 and has only been updated four times in the last 240 years - 1821, 1846, 1894, and 1938. New Yorkers have voted against holding a Convention the last two times it has been on the ballot (1977, 1997) and voted against a package of nine Amendments after the Legislature called for a Convention in 1965.

The last vote to determine whether or not to hold a Convention was in 1997 and more people didn't vote than those who voted against it.

1997 Constitutional Convention Voter Results

  • Yes - 929,000 (22%)
  • No - 1,579,000 (38%)
  • Didn't Vote - 1,694,000 (40%)

Horner says supporters of amending the State Constitution want to modernize the document, while opponents are concerned that re-opening the editing process could lead to them losing some of the current protections.

Supporters view it as an opportunity to modernize the State Constitution and to insert in it improvements that they would like to see, but opponents see that the Constitution has things in it that they like and they're afraid that if you re-open the document, which includes things that they like, they could lose things.

— Blair Horner

The Constitution of the State of New York covers topics ranging from women's right to vote, the judiciary system, how local Governments should operate, education, taxation, and workers rights.

"They could both be right and they could both be wrong," said Horner.

Even though the vote to hold a Convention will take place later this year, the timeline for actually holding the event and making the changes stretches well into the future. On November 7, citizens will vote on whether to hold the Constitutional Convention, if a majority agree then on November 6, 2018, New Yorkers will get to vote on Delegates to represent them in Albany at the Convention. Each State Senate District (63 total) gets three Delegates plus 15 Statewide will be elected. On April 2, 2019, the Convention will begin and Delegates will present and vote on proposals to be placed on a ballot. Later that year, on November 5, 2019, state citizens will vote on the proposed changes or an entirely new Constitution. If a majority vote yes, the changes will be ratified on January 1, 2020.

Constitutional Convention Timeline

  • November 7, 2017 - New Yorkers vote on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention
    • If a majority vote 'yes' then the process continues
    • If a majority vote 'no' then the process ends
  • November 6, 2018 - An election is held to select Delegates to attend the Convention
  • April 2, 2019 - The Convention begins and Delegates vote on which Amendments to place on a ballot
  • November 5, 2019 - State citizens vote on the proposed changes to the Constitution
    • If a majority vote 'yes' then the changes are ratified
    • If a majority vote 'no' then the changes are rejected
  • January 1, 2020 - Changes to the Constitution are adopted

"It's wordy, it's cumbersome and we need to revise it, we need to fine-tune it and New Yorkers should care about that because we can make it streamlined and more relevant for 2017 and make New Yorkers and New York a more progressive state," said Carla Michalak, SUNY Broome Association Professor of History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences.

One of the arguments against holding a Constitutional Convention is whether or not Delegates can actually represent the public fairly.

"You can't tell the Delegates what they're going to work on in advance, once you elect the Delegates they can do anything they want to the Constitution," said Horner.

According to Michalak, a few topics including voters rights and the judiciary system are potential places for improvement if the vote is passed.

"If we had a Convention, we could look at changing New York's election laws," said Michalak.

This includes allowing people to obtain absentee ballots without needing an excuse, allowing early voting so polls don't get overwhelmed on election day, and allowing people to change their party on the day of a primary so they can participate. This is relevant because the changes would be adopted 11 months before the next U.S. Presidential Election in November 2020.

If the vote fails this November, the next chance New Yorkers will have to hold a Constitutional Convention is 2037.