Karen Scharff, Contributor Executive Director, Citizen Action of New York
Here’s a terrifying idea: imagine if Donald Trump had one chance to put forward all the changes to our laws that he wants. That’s what could happen in New York State if voters choose to hold a Constitutional Convention.
Every twenty years, New York voters must decide on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention - a process that would allow a small group of elected delegates enormous power to change our state Constitution. The question will be on the ballot this Election Day, November 7.
The Convention would be an easy opportunity for CEOs and the super-rich to use their wealth and influence to completely rewrite the rules to suit their own personal interests.
That’s why Citizen Action of New York has taken a strong position urging New Yorkers to vote NO to a Constitutional Convention at the polls on November 7.
How Our Constitution Protects Us
The New York State Constitution gives people in New York a lot of protections and rights. It goes further than the United States Constitution. It’s a foundation for progressive thinking about our society. And it needs to be protected so we can exercise those rights.
Right now, our Constitution allows for voters to identify themselves by their signature at the polls. Without this provision, voters could be subjected to restrictive ID laws, which have been proven in other states to dramatically reduce voter turnout among people of color, low-income individuals, and seniors.
New York State has a long and proud union tradition - and our Constitution is one reason why. Workers are protected through our Constitution: it protects from wage theft and hours exploitation and guarantees the right to collectively bargain. Without these safeguards, New York could become a “right to work” state, causing plummeting wages, unsafe working conditions, and a lower standard of living for our families.
Large areas of our state—including the Adirondacks and the Catskills—are designated “forever wild,” which keeps them protected from commercial development. A Constitutional Convention opens the door for our state’s most beautiful resources to be sold off to developers and private industry, and could lead to the expanded use of fossil fuels and degradation of our natural environment.
We need to be investing more in public education, not less. Our Constitution guarantees that every child in New York receives a “sound, basic education,” while prohibiting the use of public funds for religious and parochial schools. Backers of privately-run charter schools see the Convention as their chance to take more funding and resources from public schools. A Convention could turn our children’s education into a for-profit enterprise.
Expand Rights, Strengthen Democracy
CEOs and the super-rich have used their money and power to undercut the protections in our Constitution. Our rules on how money can influence the legislative process are weak. And we make voting too difficult and inaccessible, resulting in low voter participation.
New York State needs automatic voter registration, restored voting rights for parolees, and flexible voting options. We want to see campaign finance loopholes closed, so that big money is no longer able to drown out the voice of everyday citizens. And a small-donor based system of publicly funded elections would go a long way toward limiting the influence that the super-rich have in Albany.
Most of these improvements can be accomplished through the legislative process. If a constitutional amendment is needed, the existing process can be used - it would need to be passed through two consecutive legislative sessions and then brought to a public vote. It’s actually been done more than 200 times since the last major revision to our Constitution.
Voters will choose whether or not to hold a Constitutional Convention on November 7, 2017. The question will be on the back of the ballot. If the question passes, delegates - three from each State Senate district - will be elected next year. Given how much power these delegates will have, you can be sure that the CEOs and super-rich who have worked overtime to undermine our political system will try to get their people elected.
The Convention is just too risky - it’s like betting all of our chips on a rigged game.
That’s why I’m urging you to vote NO to a Constitutional Convention. Then, join me and Citizen Action’s 40,000 members to demand expanded voting rights and a small donor campaign finance system so that New York’s democracy is strong.
The rules of our democracy shouldn’t be dictated or decided by a privileged few. We have to make sure that all voices are heard, so that our democracy works for all of us.
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How the Rich Can Rip Away Our Rights - Vote NO to a Constitutional Convention!