Voters across the country will head to the polls on Nov. 7, ready to cast their votes for representatives and executives. For New Yorkers, another option will appear on the ballot sheet, and it will determine if the state holds a constitutional convention.
According to the state constitution, every 20 years, voters must decide if New York will hold a convention. If the majority of voters vote no on the referendum, the constitutional convention will not be held, but if the majority vote yes, delegates will gather to consider amendments to the state’s constitution.
If the constitutional convention is held, three delegates from each state senatorial district will be elected in November 2018, along with 15 statewide delegates. The delegates will begin discussing changes to the state constitution in April 2019 in Albany. If a proposed change has the support of a majority of the delegates, the change will be submitted to the voters in a referendum vote. Any changes that are approved by New York voters will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
In exchange for their services, delegates will be paid as members of the Assembly while the convention is in session, a salary of $79,500 per year. If a current state legislator is elected as a delegate, they would earn both their salary and a delegate fee.
The last New York constitutional convention occurred in 1967, but no changes were made, although several were proposed. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, much has changed in the 50 years following the last convention, and New York needs to re-evaluate the relationship between its government’s citizens.
“All too often, public opinion is not reflected in legislative action in Albany,” Cuomo said in a press release. “A constitutional convention that is properly held ― with independent, non-elected official delegates ― could make real change and re-engage the public. We need a citizen-government relationship reboot. This is the time to do it and the constitutional convention could be the vehicle to do it.”
However, other leaders, including Sen. Fred Akshar, have voiced opposition to the convention. According to Akshar, there are other ways of amending the state constitution, which were recently used to legalize casino gaming in New York; the state constitution can be changed via a legislative proposal, which would need to be passed by two consecutive legislatures and approved by voters.
“Along with being a costly expense of taxpayer dollars, a Constitutional Convention would likely benefit New York City-based special interests, since more delegates would be chosen from downstate and special interests would no doubt spend considerable amounts of money to ensure these delegates support their agenda,” Akshar said in a statement. “There currently exists a mechanism in changing specific parts of the [New York state] Constitution as needed through legislation and referendums.”