Photo by Michael Shain
Weigh the pros and cons of the Constitutional Convention before the Nov. 7 general election.
By Naeisha Rose

Hidden at the back of the Nov. 7 general election ballot is a referendum that could result in drastic changes to the New York State Constitution.

Lawmakers across the aisle in the Senate and the Assembly want their constituents to Vote No on a state Constitutional Convention, while government reform groups want people to Vote Yes.

Every 20 years in New York there is a vote to decide whether to overhaul or tweak the Constitution, or to let it remain.

If New Yorkers Vote Yes, three delegates from each of New York’s 63 State Senate districts would be selected through separate elections, and there would be 15 delegates elected from across the state, according to The Sanctuary State Project. In 2018, the 204 delegates would be able to draft legislation they want for the new state treaty and in 2019 those recommendations would be up for a vote.

The bipartisan group NY Against Corruption consists of Democratic and Republican leaders and groups with opposing principles that believe the opening of the state charter, which will cost $300 million, would come at a high price. At risk are those who are in unions, have pensions, are impoverished, and want to protect their current rights under the constitution, according to the organization.

The Sanctuary State Project is a nonpartisan, non-profit that views a Constitutional Convention as a catalyst for positive change for New Yorkers, according to its website.

Organizations like Sanctuary State, EffectiveNY, Forward March New York, and the New York Bar Association want citizens to Vote Yes on a new treaty in order to fast track legislation that could improve the lives of New Yorkers in terms of education, reproductive rights, modernizing the court system, legalizing marijuana, taking big money out of politics and ending gerrymandering, according to www.nysba.org.

“Saying yes to a constitutional convention means saying yes to expanding voting access, protecting a woman’s right to choose, supporting immigrants and achieving other important progressive goals,” said Art Chang of the Sanctuary State Project.

Sanctuary State also wants to advance the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for state financial aid for college and receive pro-immigrant protections as well as allowing early voting for New Yorkers.

A poll conducted by the Siena College Research Institute from Sept. 25 to Oct. 2 showed that Democrats across the state are leaning toward a constitutional convention as well as Democrats throughout New York City.

Chang believes that based on 2016 statewide election data that a convention would heavily favor Democratic interests; therefore labor rights and progressive values would be safe.

EffectiveNY, is a nonpartisan government watchdog group and public policy think tank that wants innovative solutions to make New York better.

Bill Samuels, EffectiveNY’s founder, wants a convention to give full civil rights protections for the LGBT community, funding for underperforming poor and rural schools and the legalization of marijuana.

Forward March NY, a non-profit women’s rights organization created after the Women’s March on Washington last year, wants to protect a woman’s right to an abortion and access to contraception, which many fear will be rolled back because of the Trump administration attacks on those rights.

The group also want to end gerrymandering, which has stalled the passage of many bills in Albany that could advance women’s rights, like the Reproductive Health Act, according to the organization. The act would allow a woman to get an abortion within 24 weeks, if a fetus is no longer viable or if a patient’s life or health is at risk because of a pregnancy. It would also increase access to contraception.

Gerrymandering is the deliberate redistricting of electoral districts to favor one political party over another.

The New York Bar Association wants to streamline New York’s court system, which has 11 different trial-level courts and multiple levels of appellate courts, making the state’s courts the most complex in the nation, according to their website. The bar association wants the “forever wild” aspects of the current constitution to be enforced in order to preserve the Adirondacks and the Catskills. Its support for a convention could also mean the closing of the LLC Loophole.

The Brennan Center for Justice said the loophole, which was created by the Board of Elections in 1996, has allowed special interest groups to funnel tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns incognito, bypassing disclosure requirements and contribution limitations because they are treated as individuals rather than corporations.

By closing the loophole through the convention, this could result in an even playing field in terms of funding for elected incumbents and less connected newcomers who want to unseat them, the center said.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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