Every 20 years, New Yorkers have the chance to vote whether they want to hold a constitutional convention to amend, tweak or otherwise improve the founding document of the state.
For the past half-century, voters have demurred. This year, however, academics, good-government groups and others believe the outcome of the ballot question in November may be different. And — perhaps no surprise — it has something to do with the current occupant of the White House.
“Trump’s election emphasizes how valuable it is for states to chart their own course,” said Peter J. Galie, author of “Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York” and a professor of political science at Canisius College in Buffalo. “We can put a right to clean air and water in our Constitution. If we want to add more labor protections, we can do it. That’s the beauty of federalism.”
But before voters confront the ballot question, they will no doubt be barraged by campaigns for and against a constitutional convention, affectionately called Con-Con.
Nonprofit groups interested in issues including campaign finance reform, redistricting, term limits and the legalization of marijuana have come out in favor of a convention. They argue that the state Legislature is unlikely to take up these thorny, politically treacherous topics. At the same time, unions like the United Federation of Teachers and state legislative leaders have argued against a convention, saying it could repeal hallowed protections.
There are some offbeat — some might say flaky — positions that advocates say could come about only during a constitutional convention. They include calls for a unicameral Legislature — doing away with the Assembly or Senate — and the division of the state into autonomous regions, with separate regional governors and legislatures.
If voters approve a convention, delegates would be elected in 2018, with the convention held the next year.