The founding fathers believed that we have an inalienable right to alter our government. It is an inherent and critical aspect of democracy. In New York, our state constitution calls for a referendum (a vote) every 20 years to decide whether a Constitutional Convention (or the Con Con) will be held. 37 states include similar provisions which allow for conventions when called by the people or legislature, while only 14 states (including New York) automatically call a referendum to alter our constitution at periodic intervals. This year, on November 7, 2017, we will have this once-in-two-decades opportunity to call the convention. Forward March New York proudly supports the YES vote for a New York State Constitution.
This year on the ballot, voters will see the question, “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?”
If the vote is not successful, the next time we will have this opportunity is in 2037. If the vote for the New York Con Con is successful, individuals from across the state will be able to campaign to become Convention Delegates — the group of people who actually make recommendations for changes to our constitution. Then, on November 6, 2018, New Yorkers will vote on Convention Delegates (three from each Senate district, plus 15 additional statewide delegates). The convention will take place between April and November 2019. During the convention, our elected delegates will propose changes to the current constitution, also known as an amendment. Each amendment to the constitution will need to be voted on by the entire constitutional convention delegation and will become an “official” proposed amendment by simple majority.
Yet, while these changes are first approved by the elected delegates, the delegates do not have the final say. That lies with the people of New York, who will to vote to accept or reject these proposals after the convention in November 2019. In every step of this process, the power lies in the hands of the people. We have the power to choose if the convention will happen, the power to choose who will represent us at the convention, and, finally, the power to choose whether or not the proposals of those representatives will be accepted or rejected.
Why is the constitutional convention necessary today?
This is a tumultuous time for all U.S. citizens. Since the election of Donald Trump, protections have been rolled back, negatively affecting the lives of every citizen, especially regarding education, healthcare, the economy, and military. And more than ever, women, people of color, and immigrants are being targeted unjustly and treated as second-class citizens.
We have been reliant upon federal protections for many of our rights, including the right to abortion access via Roe v. Wade and the recently rolled-back right to contraception via the Affordable Care Act. With the Trump administration attacking these rights on a daily basis, we can no longer depend upon federal protections alone. New Yorkers deserve laws that reflect what they want and protect their rights. Unfortunately, however, both the state constitution and legislation that currently exist in New York are inadequate. If federal laws change and leave us with the current New York state laws, we and our fellow New Yorkers are in danger, with literal life-or-death consequences.
Why a constitutional change and not a legislative change?
Our legislative branch in Albany has not done what New Yorkers want. Our voices are being silenced by gerrymandering and a suffocating lack of up-to-date voting rights so the state legislature does not proportionally represent New York’s diversity. Furthermore, it is often cited as one of the most corrupt governments in the country, and it continues to be so without shame. 1 Yes, New York has more corrupt officials than any other state – Politifact, Sept 19, 20162 Congratulations, New York, You’re #1 in Corruption – Politico, May 05 20153 How New York Became One Of The Most Corrupt States – NPR, May 10 20134 92% of New Yorkers see state government corruption as a major problem: poll – New York Daily News5 Albany on Trial – The New York Times6 Troubled New York politicians: A list of arrests, scandals, misdeeds and controversies – Syracuse.com7 Corruption in Albany – NBC New York8 Study proves NY politicians most corrupt in nation – New York Daily News, Nov 9 20159 Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Is Found Guilty on All Counts – The New York Times, Nov 30, 201510 Sheldon Silver’s 2015 Corruption Conviction Is Overturned – The New York Times, Jul 13, 201711 For Group of Breakaway Democrats in New York, It Pays to Be No. 2 – The New York Times, May 9, 201712 Albany Will Stay Broken, and the Growing Independent Democratic Conference Is a Big Reason Why – Village Voice, Jan 26, 201713 Average tenure in Albany more than a decade – Politico, Dec 26, 201414 2016 Again Highlights New York ‘Incumbency Protection Machine – Gotham Gazette, Sept 26, 2016
Examples of issues critical to New Yorkers’ lives that have stalled in Albany:
- The New York Health Act has passed the Assembly in 2015, 2016, and 2017, but it has not been considered in the Senate.
- The GENDA Bill has not been considered in the Senate and its sponsor has quit due to the Senate’s inability to lead.
- The Reproductive Health Act has been stalled in committee while the senate refuses to vote on it.
- The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act has not been considered in the Senate.
- The New York Votes Act has not been considered in the Senate.
- The Child Victims Act has not been considered in the Senate.
Despite being a democratic and progressive state, we have a Republican-controlled state senate, largely due to the Independent Democratic Conference (the “IDC”) aligning with Republican interests. This has led to the state senate ignoring legislation that is vital to New York lives. The IDC did not happen overnight. After periods of Democratic control by the corrupt Sheldon Silver , the GOP assumed ownership by buying off members of the Democratic party.
Albany is not changing anytime soon. The average tenure of in the New York Assembly is over a decade long (despite a two-year term), and neither the New York Assembly nor the Senate currently have term limits. It is near impossible for newcomers to successfully challenge incumbents in any given election year. As a result, we have the same people representing New Yorkers without any motivation or interest in giving New Yorkers what they actually want or need.
A state constitutional change is the most feasible option to make meaningful reform for New York citizens. The state government has not made the changes that we need and the people within the government are not likely to change. We need to depend on the people of New York, and through the People’s Convention, we can take control of our laws.
This is an opportunity for all New Yorkers to have a direct hand in how they are governed.
The current system in the legislature makes it extremely difficult for non-incumbents to win political office in New York State, but during the convention, those without a political background have a unique opportunity to directly influence our government. While our current legislators can run to be constitutional delegates, in years past non-politicians have still won as convention delegates. This is an opportunity for all New Yorkers to be the change that they want to see.
The delegate selection process is far from perfect, and that is something that should be addressed during this process. Women and people of color have had the barest representation in our past constitutional conventions. Our last convention had 186 total delegates, out of which were only 10 women, 11 African-American, and 5 Latinx delegates.
In the 50 years since our last constitutional convention, our state has become even more progressive, and representation that looks like New York is more important than ever. It is crucial that we acknowledge this by voting YES, and a vote YES goes hand in hand with empowering women and people of color to finally make their voices heard as delegates of the convention and citizens of New York.
What needs to change in the Constitution?
We, along with the other groups that support the Con Con, have written at length about the number of changes that we believe could and should happen during the convention. You can read more about the possibilities here.
In brief, our current constitution does not include anything regarding equality for women or affordable health care. It does not sufficiently address our reproductive health, environment, public education, criminal justice, or voting rights – some of these sections in our constitution have not been updated since 1894. We also support sensible judicial reform and steps towards ending corruption and gerrymandering. Our constitution as it stands is outdated and does not offer us the safeguards we need – especially if certain federal protections are taken away by the Trump administration.
How does this affect your life from day to day? Right now, with the way the constitution is written, Albany controls everything that happens in our state to the detriment of each locality, especially New York City. Here are examples of things that New York City cannot change without Albany’s approval – and that our current legislature has not supported meaningful changes on:
- The MTA
- Affordable housing laws
- NYC minimum wage
- Taxes on NYC residents
- Public school funding
We are not getting the reforms that we want and need in New York City or anywhere else in New York State. We can, however, achieve these changes through the constitutional convention, just as we’ve done in the past.
What has happened in past Conventions?
The Constitutional Convention in New York created our first state constitution in 1777, years before the federal constitution was created. As a beacon of progressive protections, many of our rights were first considered during a New York State constitutional convention before they were a reality across the country: proposals for equal suffrage for African Americans came in 1864 and women’s suffrage in 1915. All of the constitutional conventions have added protections (whether they were immediately adopted or added at a later time) and no convention in the history of our state has ever taken away from our rights.
The state Constitutional Convention has been called nine times in New York’s history: 1777, 1801, 1821, 1846, 1867, 1894, 1915, 1938, and 1967. Today’s constitution is the iteration of the 1894 convention, which added the “Bill of Rights, legislative apportionment, education and conservation.”
In 1915, the convention considered the home rule, women’s suffrage, and reorganization of the judicial and executive branches. While these measures failed in 1915, most were adopted subsequently.
The 1938 Convention considered amendments for low-income housing, the rights of Labor, State funding for social welfare, and New York City debt, which were all ratified. Other proposals on reapportionment, proportional representation, and the judiciary were rejected.
The 1967 Convention (the last convention held in New York) proposed the Blaine Amendment. It would have removed the prohibition against State funding for religious educational institutions. It also included large reforms in reapportionment, the judiciary, the environment, home rule, and state and local finances, in addition to expanding the bill of rights. However, it was offered to the voters as a single package with all the changes rolled into one “yes” or “no” vote. Due to the unpopularity of the Blaine Amendment, it was defeated at the polls. Because of this historical lesson, it would be wildly unrealistic for the delegates to ever roll all the amendments into one question on the ballot again.
In years past, New Yorkers have been on the front line in adding the rights that we enjoy today. The conventions have overwhelmingly added only positive protections to constitution. And this year, we can continue that tradition by safeguarding the existing rights we need, adding rights we do not yet enjoy, and reforming policies to improve the lives of every New Yorker.
Why count on New York citizens?
New York is a diverse and liberal state that confidently votes Democrat. Historically, our state (especially at our constitutional conventions) has been at the forefront of adding progressive rights for our citizens and inspiring other parts of the country to do the same.
In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won New York’s popular vote by over 1.7 million people. Based on the 2016 election results, plus the fact that Trump’s approval rating has plummeted to 29% in New York State, we can count on a majority of Democratic delegates at our convention.
The evidence is mounting that a progressive change is continuing to happen in New York:
- “Donald Trump will never win over New Yorker voters” – New York Post
- “2016 New York President: Trump vs. Clinton” – Huffington Post
- “Voters Pick Women Over Men in Primary for All Six Brooklyn Judicial Seats” – Gotham Gazette
- “New York Democrats See Special Election Win as Good Sign for ’18” – New York Times
- “Forget ‘Hope vs. Fear.’ What does Math tell New Yorkers about a constitutional convention?” – Sanctuary State New York
In July 2017, a Quinnipiac poll showed that a majority of New Yorkers supported the New York Constitutional Convention. We are not afraid to be the change that we want to see. We can count on New Yorkers to vote YES this November. We can count on New Yorkers to choose a diverse and qualified delegation for the convention. And beyond the convention, we can count on New York voters to approve the right amendments to our constitution in 2019.
Who are we?
Forward March New York is made up of a group of women that came together after the 2016 election. We were devastated, afraid, in pain, and we struggled to know what we could do to effect change. We are a group of volunteers with day jobs, student loans, insecurities, and faults – we are New York women. We know how hard it is to be angry and not know how to make a difference to our environment. We know how privileged we are to have this opportunity to work towards change.
Our lives and the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors are directly affected by the haphazard and dangerous policies of Donald Trump. It is fate that gives us the opportunity to call the constitutional convention during these deeply troubling times. It is a real opportunity for us to take the power in our hands. We cannot sit idly by; we cannot do nothing and hope that something will change. We choose YES to taking the power back.
If the vote for the New York the Con Con passes, we are committed to increasing access and we are here to help women in the process to become elected as delegates. We will support them to get the signatures they need, fundraise, market their campaign, learn about the processes of running and what the essential issues are. Our goal is a truly diverse and representative delegation for the state Constitutional Convention.
The New York Constitutional Convention is not a cure-all. Making meaningful change in New York will be a long process with many hurdles in its way. If we’re successful in reforming the New York Constitution, it will still be years before we see the impact of those changes. We understand this. But we also understand it will be worth the wait and the effort.
We choose YES because we have faith in the women of New York. And we know that together, we are the change that needs to happen.
Forward March New York supports voting YES for the New York State Constitutional Convention because we believe in the people of New York. Every 20 years, we have a protected right to call for a convention. Of the nine we have had in New York, each one has resulted in the addition of rights and protections for the people, whereas nothing has ever been taken away. In the age of Trump, we cannot depend on the protections we currently enjoy on a solely federal level and we must strengthen the state protections available to New York citizens.
The New York Constitutional Convention is an opportunity for us to shake up the status quo of Albany where our lawmakers are not enacting the laws we want or need, at the expense of our lives. Forward March New York supports voting YES on Question 1 this November and is committed to ensuring that diverse women of New York become the delegates we need during the convention. Together, we can make the change that New York needs and set a precedent for the rest of the country.
Choose YES on Question 1 this November 7th. Confirm your polling location today*!
*Note: Our board of elections do not always have the most up to date polling information online. Be sure to check the day before the election to confirm you know the correct polling location, and be on the look out for your mailed confirmation. This is example of a reform that can be addressed by the NY Constitutional Convention.
Find additional resources and information on the New York State Constitutional Convention here:
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