Should New York vote to hold a constitutional convention?


Mari Mirasol, Opinions Editor

Every twenty years, New Yorkers are asked to vote on holding a constitutional convention. If the state agrees to hold the convention, elected officials are sent to Albany to propose and discuss possible changes to the structure of New York’s government. The original constitution was written in 1894, and there has not been a constitutional convention since 1967. However, on Nov. 7, New York state voters will have the opportunity to call for a convention to take place in the spring of 2019.  If the majority of the state votes against the convention, then New York will not be able to try again until 2037.

“It has been decades since the last constitutional convention, and both the world and New York State have undergone many changes since then. It would be in our best interest to devote some time to editing our outdated constitution,” said senior Maddy Wiener.

The most basic purpose of a constitutional convention is to give civilians the chance to voice their concerns over the current form of government.  It is a way for New Yorkers to support the democratic process. In essence, the government adjusts itself to the needs of the people.  How can the government know what changes its civilians want if there is no outlet for civilians to reach their officials? The convention is meant to serve as a platform for delegates to propose amendments. No laws or actual changes can occur until the state votes on approving or rejecting these ideas. The delegates are chosen directly by the state, and anyone can step up for the nomination. This way, the convention is open to the public.

“There is no harm in holding a convention. The country has been extremely divided this year, and maybe gathering community leaders is the best way to resolve our differences. Plus, the state gets a say in any possible amendments,” said senior Lucy Hurt.

Many supporters of the convention are activist groups, who hope that this meeting will be their chance to propose reforms. For example, Planned Parenthood supporters hope to advocate for freedom-of-choice laws to uphold their stance against any attempts to weaken the Roe v. Wade decision.  Other groups hoping to gain from this convention include supporters of gun control policies and environmental activists.  There has been much criticism of the Trump administration when it comes to these topics, but a constitutional convention would allow New Yorkers to pursue a course of action that best represents the demands of the state.

“Especially due to the federal government’s recent cuts to programs like the EPA and Planned Parenthood, I think we should have a say in what we want to support and not support.  As a state, if we all agree that we want to continue certain programs, we should have the right to advocate for them,” said senior Saige Gitlin.

Many labor unions are against holding a convention for fear of the delegates taking away protections regarding workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and collective bargaining. Their fear lays in the fact that since anyone can be elected a delegate, anti-labor forces may work their way into the convention.

“It comes down to fear versus hope. The fear that something bad could come out of it, and the hope that something good could,” said director of the NY Public Interest Research Group Blair Horner.

This fear for the unexpected has already claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertisements, including signs, bumper stickers, and ads on the media, for both sides.  According to The New York Times, an estimated $700,000 has already been spent by the New Yorkers Against Corruption coalition of unions.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of which amendments are proposed, they will all be subject to the judgement of New Yorkers. Thanks to voting, laws that do not represent the demands of the people will not be successful.

A constitutional convention is meant to reinforce the democratic process that we have based the American government around. In the face of such dividing opinions, a proposal to gather and voice our thoughts may not be such a bad idea.