Posts Tagged ‘constitutional convention’

If you live in Albany, NY – heck, in most of the country, the election polling places this week will experience the sound of crickets, despite the fact that the mayor, president of the common council, and several other positions will be up for the vote.

Including two county coroners. Albany County is among 35 counties in NYS that have an elected coroner. “Although two-thirds of all New York counties follow a coroner system (including counties where the district attorney is the elected coroner), most of the state’s population resides in counties with medical examiner systems. Many major metropolitan areas — including Buffalo, Long Island, New York City, Syracuse, and Westchester — are overseen by medical examiners.”

And coroners are party affiliated, at least here. As a registered Democrat who hates the one-party Democratic party system here, I have traditionally voted for the Republican candidates, pretty much out of spite. For the first time since I’ve lived in Albany County, and that goes back to 1979, I’m voting for one Democrat, the guy I voted for in the Democratic primary in September, albeit on the Working Families line this time. (New York State allows for cross-endorsements.)

I’m HOPING, though, that there will be a larger than average turnout because of the statewide Constitutional Convention vote, one of three items on the back side of the ballot. I went to a debate about the issue last week between women from the League of Women Voters (pro) and the NYCLU (con). Even the LWV advocate admitted that the organization’s support is a combination of hope and frustration with the status quo.

The LWV rep said that, at 55,000 words, far longer than the US Constitution or most state constitutions, the New York State constitution could lose about 20% of its content and have zero impact on anything; regulations superseded by others but the old rules were never removed, for instance.

Watch Constitutional Convention 2017 Explained. A YES vote means that candidates, three per state senate district plus 15 statewide delegates – (63X3)+15= 204 delegates – will be chosen in November 2018. The legislature could theoretically pick the 15 themselves.

Anyone, theoretically, could run, but it would be much harder, as it now stands, for someone not affiliated with a political party to get on the ballot. In the first three months of 2019, the state legislature could theoretically change some of the rules – make three districts within the state senate districts, instead of three at large seats, e.g.

Will state legislators run? They could, but they would be on the ballot twice, once for their legislative slot and one as a delegate, and quite possibly get paid for both. How would the voters feel about that?

Here’s an NYCLU piece against ConCon. Because whatever gets passed in the ConCon ultimately has to be ratified by the voters in 2019, I’m only slightly concerned about some large disruption of rights.

However, the possibility exists of one bill bundling “amendments into ‘the big ugly’ which is what many call the annual end-of-session bill. It lumps scores of often-unrelated legislative compromises into one up-or-down vote. It is the epitome of the worst Albany horse-trading.” That happened at the 1967 convention, which is why it was shot down by the voters.

Presumably the delegates will be more savvy and put up a half dozen packages on different topics, such as election reform and ethics. That is if ConCon passes, which I still hope it does not.

When I went to my sister’s high school reunion early in October 2017, I was talking with one of her classmates about the November 7 Constitutional Convention vote. She had subsequently had a conversation with someone who asked her a question on the topic for which she didn’t have an answer.

This other person she was talking to thought that if YES or NO wasn’t checked, it automatically became a YES vote. This is untrue.

As the Rockefeller Institute noted back in August, there is a belief that:

…the proposal for a constitutional convention has been placed on the back of the ballot to purposely make it hard to find and ballots that are left blank on the question of convening a ConCon will automatically be counted as votes in favor of a constitutional convention. The implication is that the system is rigged to force a constitutional convention to be convened, even if that is not the will of the people. Based on the high number of calls and emails that the Rockefeller Institute has received in the last few weeks from concerned citizens, Facebook posts like this have been shared widely…

What is not in doubt… is how blank ballots are counted. Contrary to what has been circulated, failing to vote on this measure does not default to being considered a vote in favor of holding a ConCon. How to count blank votes is very clearly outlined in New York State Election Law § 9–112:

If the voter… makes a mark in a place or manner not herein provided for, or if for any reason it is impossible to determine the voter’s choice of… his or her vote upon a ballot proposal, his or her vote shall not be counted for… the ballot proposal, but shall be returned as a blank vote thereon.

If a voter leaves the question of convening a ConCon blank on their ballot, whether because they miss the proposal or by design, it will simply be counted as a blank vote. End of story. In other words, only those individuals who voted “yes” or “no” on whether to hold a ConCon are counted.

For the record, I’m a NO vote.

Skelos, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Silver

With all the attention on the potential Constitutional Convention on the ballot November 7, I was only dimly aware of the other two propositions that New Yorkers must consider. OK, SHOULD consider, since they’re on the flip side of he ballot.

The proposed amendment… would allow a court to reduce or revoke the pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer’s duties.

The number of corrupt government officials is arguably higher in the Empire State than any other. I assume some judge would decide whether, and how, the crime relates to their official duties.

The problem in this state is that those convictions can be overturned, as they were, just in the past four months, in the cases of former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos. If this proposal had been in place, the pensions of the pols whose convictions were vacated could, and I suppose should, be reinstated.

Still, I support this amendment as a step in the right direction.

The proposed amendment will create a land account with up to 250 acres of forest preserve land eligible for use by towns, villages, and counties that have no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns; as a substitute for the land removed from the forest preserve, another 250 acres of land, subject to legislative approval, will be added to the forest preserve. The proposed amendment also will allow bicycle trails and certain public utility lines to be located within the width of highways that traverse the forest preserve while minimizing removal of trees and vegetation.

This is largely a land swap, with the State acquiring the same amount of land, “subject to approval by the Legislature, to incorporate into the forest preserve to replace the land placed in the health and safety land account.” This has a lot of precedent, and I’m willing to support this.

I’ve already noted my opposition to the “convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same.” Interestingly, if it were to pass, I’d want to run as a delegate if I thought I had a scintilla of a chance of winning.

The propositions are the most interesting items on the ballot because the candidate races were all but settled in the primaries, at least in the city of Albany. The one surprise for me was that Bryan Jimenez is the Green Party candidate for mayor. After the election, Dan Plaat had a 17-15 lead from the machines, but Jimenez got some absentee or other paper ballot votes.

This is unconfirmed rumor, but I was told by someone in the know that the Greens wanted a primary so they could show up on the stage with the Democrats at candidate talks, not ignored like other minor party candidates.

GET EDUCATED ON THE UPCOMING NYS BALLOT ISSUE ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
Featuring
Erika Lorshbough, NYCLU, Legislative Counsel
And
Laura Bierman, League of Women Voters of NYS, Executive Director

MONDAY, OCTOBER 30 AT 6 PM
ALBANY PUBLIC LIBRARY
161 WASHINGTON AVENUE

We will hear the Pros (LWVNYS) and Cons (NYCLU) of voting on whether or not NYS should convene a Constitutional Convention in 2018.

Sponsored by
NYCLU, Citizen Action and LWVNYS

* The event is free and open to the public. *

There’s an article from the Rockefeller Institute of Government called Why New York Needs a Constitutional Convention, which notes:

“Every 20 years, New Yorkers have the chance to vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention (known as a ConCon). The next vote will be held this November. If the voters approve a convention, delegates will be elected in November 2018, and the convention will open in April 2019.”

Here’s the odd thing: I agree with almost everything the writers are saying about a need for a ConCon. Yet I disagree about actually conducting one.

On the affirmative side:
Are you satisfied with the way the state is governed? Surely not.

“New York:
“Has a persistent culture of corruption. Albany thrives on a pay-to-play culture that has seen: four temporary presidents of the Senate since 2008 charged with (and three convicted of) some form of public corruption; the convictions on corruption charges of one of those temporary presidents, Dean Skelos, and the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, within weeks of each other.” The fact that Silver and Joe Bruno’s convictions were overturned barely mitigates this mess.

“Has close to a 90 percent incumbency rate for members of the state Assembly and Senate. More legislators leave office under indictment, conviction, retirement, or death than by losing elections! District lines are drawn in ways that not only favor one party or the other, but insulate most incumbents from primary challenges as well.

“Does anybody really believe that a legislature benefiting from the current power structure and anxious to retain that power would adopt, or even seriously consider, institutional reforms such as…
an independent redistricting commission that would end political gerrymandering…;
an independent Moreland/Ethics Commission?”

On the other hand:

“…the political insiders and lobbyists… view the convention as a great opportunity to rewrite the current Constitution to their own benefit, while making a huge profit in the process. The constitutional convention takes place over several years—while the taxpayers… are footing the bill for the delegates’ election and salary—at an estimated cost of $200 million…

“Any approved amendments will not take effect until at least 2020 and beyond. Delegates will be paid a salary of $80,000 a year (in addition to their other income). Because delegates are elected to their positions, many will be elected officials or politically savvy insiders who are familiar with the techniques and demands of the political process, such as fundraising and campaigning.” That’s what happened the last time, in 1967.

“The argument that the convention provides an opportunity for ‘fresh eyes’ and ‘outsiders’ to participate in government is not the reality. Instead, the reality is that a constitutional convention would be controlled by well-funded special interests, such as… career politicians, and it will put the ‘”foxes in the hen house.'”

There’s a BIG problem in New York, but the solution might well be worse than the disease.

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