UTICA, NY-- When New York state voters flip their ballots over on November 7th, they will be asked if they support a constitutional convention.
It's an opportunity New York voters get the chance to vote on every 20 years. The process of the constitutional convention seems simple: voters elect three delegates to represent their state senate district. Those delegates meet and craft changes to the state constitution. Those proposed changes are then voted on by the same people who elected the delegates to create them.
If residents vote in favor of a constitutional convention in November, a convention will automatically be scheduled for spring of 2019. Candidates will run for one of three delegate spots in each state senate district. Anyone is allowed to run as a delegate.
In November of 2018, voters will choose which delegates they want to send to the convention. The proposed constitution changes will either be adopted or rejected by the electorate in November of 2019.
The last constitutional convention in New York state was in 1967, where voters ultimately rejected the changes proposed by the delegates.
"It was a complete failure," Jeanette St. Mary, Region 6 Coordinator for the Public Employees Federation said. "Nothing that they made resolutions on were passed."
St. Mary and other members of the Public Employees Federation (PEF) are against the idea of constitutional convention, and are encouraging people to vote "no" in November.
They argue the convention is too costly to taxpayers.
"There is a process in place currently for that to happen without opening the constitution, spending $350 million dollars of taxpayer money," St. Mary said. "People can make changes. You can surgically cut out of the constitution what it is you want to amend, write the amendment and have a vote. The legislature's done it 267 times since the last time the constitutional convention was open."
Those in favor of a convention say the current process of amending the constitution, through propositions, is too restrictive.
"There's a litany of bills that people of New York want to see happen that our legislative leaders just won't let happen," Al Benninghoff, campaign manager for 'NY Says Yes' said. "A lot of them have to do with frankly, just making our process more democratic."
Concerns about the convention are wide in range. Though anyone can run as a delegate, many fear elected officials will run for the paid positions and win.
"This is touted as 'the people's convention,' but in actuality, the last time it was convened, every person that already was in office was elected to it," St. Mary said. "So it is a politician's convention. Most basic people that are out working every day are not going to be running to be a delegate in the constitutional convention."
"It's ridiculous to say that those people who voted in favor of the constitutional convention would then immediately turn around and vote back in a whole bunch of delegates from the status quo to be constitutional convention delegates," Benninghoff said.
Some fear passing up a convention would mean giving up the opportunity for voters to demand certain rights.
"The opportunity people are looking for is for their voice to be heard," Benninghoff said. "Opportunities to make our constitution reflect everybody, to have an equality for all amendments so that everybody is protected. Those are really things that people of the state of New York want to see happen that came up this year in the legislative session but just frankly, aren't getting voted on."
"If you open the constitution, every single thing in there is volatile to change and we don't want that to happen," St. Mary said. "I'm worried about public school education. We have a commissioner, Betsy DeVos, who has dangerously changed many things in public education. You know, it sounds laughable, but if they decide to change the way public education is provided in New York state, if you have children in public school, you may be forced to pay for them to go to public school."
Although many political issues are divided along party lines, the convention appears to pit what is established against what is unknown.
"I think the one thing uniting everybody is the uncertainty of it," Greg Amorosi, legislative director for PEF said. "I think that's what brings the groups together."
"It's not democrat-republican, it's insider-outsider," Benninghoff said. "If you are a political insider, you do not want a constitutional convention."
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