Op-Ed by Tom DePrisco
NYS law mandates voters be asked every twenty years, or at other times, if they would like a Constitutional Convention. We will be asked this question on Election Day 2017. Any part of our constitution could be changed as a result of a Constitutional Convention. Previously, state legislators have successfully proposed and achieved voter passage of several hundred amendments to the NYS Constitution without benefit of a Constitutional Convention. In fact, two questions proposing amendments to our Constitution will also be on this year’s ballot.
If voters approve having a Constitutional Convention, three delegates from each of the 63 senate districts and fifteen at-large delegates nominated by political parties would be elected in November 2018. The actual Convention should convene in April 2019 and any proposed amendments would be voted on in November 2019. Approved amendments would take effect on January 1, 2020.
The last Constitutional Convention, which was initiated by the state legislature, was held in 1967. All the proposed amendments were rejected by the voters. One of those amendments would have allowed state education funding for all religious schools.
This year’s Constitutional Convention question will be on the back of the ballot. A blank vote will not be counted as a YES vote. In fact, looking at the rejected 1997 Constitutional Convention question results, out of the total 4,202,593 votes cast statewide – there were 929,415 YES votes, 1,579,390 NO votes and 1,693,788 blanks or non-votes. Clearly the blank or non-votes were not considered as affirmative votes.
There are concerns involving the convention delegate nomination process and how much of a true grass roots process will be attained. Many delegates could very well be elected officials who are supported by well-financed political parties.
I see no need to convene a Constitutional Convention at this time. As is noted with this year’s proposed amendment regarding the forfeiture of convicted public officer’s pensions, our state legislature has the motivation and means to appropriately amend portions of our state constitution when necessary.
Tom DePrisco is a former GOP state Senate candidate and Pearl River School Board member