The New York State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse
Information Related to New York's Nov. 7, 2017 Constitutional Convention Referendum
The Purpose of the Referendum
The unique democratic purpose of New York’s periodic constitutional convention referendum is to implement New Yorkers’ inalienable right to alter their constitution in cases where the interests of the legislature and people conflict. New York’s Constitution allows the people to exercise this right once every twenty years. To realize this democratic purpose, a convention must be substantially independent of the legislature’s control. For example, New York’s Constitution prohibits the legislature from directly limiting a convention’s agenda. The agenda is placed in the hands of the people independently of the legislature. Democratic accountability is primarily sought by granting the people three votes over the process:
- to call a convention,
- to elect delegates to a convention, and
- to ratify any amendments a convention might propose for their consideration.
The people cannot ratify any constitutional change in conflict with Federal law, including the U.S. Constitution.
Flowchart of the Constitutional Convention Process
June 19, 2016. During an interview with the New York Times after the 2016 state legislative session ended, Governor Andrew Cuomo blames the legislature for his failure to get key ethics reforms passed: “Mr. Cuomo added that the only way to solve the problem was a constitutional convention. ‘The people are going to have to do it,’ he said.”
March 25, 2016. Can a NYS Constitutional Convention Strengthen Government Ethics? at Albany Law School. A two-and-a-half hour discussion by some of New York’s leading thinkers on this question. The video is here.
March 24, 2016. Snider, J.H., New York’s Coming ConCon Battle, Gotham Gazette, March 24, 2016.
March 3, 2016. The New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) and the League of Women Voters of New York State release A Brief Guide to the New York State Constitutional Convention. It includes a fun and informative graphic road map describing the state constitutional convention process.
January 28, 2016. Citizens Union announces its support for a constitutional convention, including setting up a coalition of supporters.
January 19, 2016. Snider, J.H. Cuomo’s Preparatory Commission Should Prioritize Fixing ConCon Process, Gotham Gazette.
January 13, 2016. In his State of the State address to the New York Legislature, Governor Cuomo endorses convening a state constitutional convention (listen to 128:46 to 129:23). In the accompanying policy blueprint, he also endorses convening a preparatory commission: “The Governor will invest $1 million to create an expert, non-partisan commission to develop a blueprint for a convention.”
December 7, 2015. Rockefeller Institute and New York State Bar Association host constitutional convention “boot camp.”
November 23, 2015. Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), League of Women Voters of New York State, and other good government groups jointly write to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to reform the constitutional convention delegate selection process.
November 22, 2015. Snider, J.H., Board, independent of Legislature, key to constitution fix, Albany Times Union.
November 13, 2015. New York State Bar Association Calls on State Government to Prepare Now for Statewide Vote on State Constitution in 2017, New York State Bar Association Press Release. See video below and report that accompanies the press release.
October 13, 2015. New York City Bar Association Convenes Task Force on New York State Constitutional Convention, New York City Bar Association Press Release..
September 24, 2015. “Brainstorming a Public History and Civic Participation Agenda for New York’s Nov. 2017 Constitutional Convention Referendum.” iSolon.org conference hosted at the New York Council for the Humanities, Manhattan. Covered in the New York History Blog.
September 14, 2015. Citizen Groups Create Multiyear Campaign to Promote Awareness of the 2017 NYS Constitutional Convention Vote, Rockefeller Institute Press Release, September 14, 2015.
August 24, 2015. Snider, J.H., Convention a basic N.Y. right, Albany Times Union.
July 24, 2015. New York State Bar Association President Miranda Forms Committee To Study NYS Constitution, New York State Bar Association Press Release. See video below that accompanies the press release.
July 1, 2015. Editorial, New York can still fix this, Albany Times Union.
June 4, 2015. Snider, J.H., Preparing for New York’s Next Constitutional Convention Referendum, Gotham Gazette.
July 24, 2015 video press release by the president of the New York State Bar Association announcing the creation of a committee to study the New York State Constitution.
November 13, 2015 video press release by the president of the New York State Bar Association announcing the Bar’s unanimous approval of a report calling for the establishment of a New York State preparatory commission on a constitutional convention.
Constitutionally Specified Milestones
November 7, 2017. As mandated by New York’s Constitution, New Yorkers vote on whether to convene a state constitutional convention.
By July 1, 2017. As mandated by New York’s Constitution, if New Yorkers approve a convention, the New York Assembly must pass an act placing the referendum on the ballot. This presumably must be done by the end of the Assembly’s regular session, hence the by July 1, 2017 date, with the “by” signifying that this date is merely an approximation.
November 6, 2018. As mandated by New York’s Constitution, if New Yorkers approve a convention, New Yorkers will elect delegates at the next general election, hence the November 6, 2018 date.
April 2, 2019. As mandated by New York’s Constitution, if New Yorkers approve a convention, the convention will convene on the first Tuesday in April following the election of delegates, hence the April 2, 2019 date.
November 5, 2019. This is a guess estimate for the date the convention’s proposals would be voted on by the public. The New York Constitution leaves it up to the convention to specify when its proposals will be placed on the ballot for popular ratification. Passed experience suggests it will be the next general election, hence the November 5, 2019 date.
Constitutional Convention Milestones
Source: Picture from New York Public Library. Picture description by J.H. Snider.
Countdown until the referendum
Agave Americana, popularly known as the American Century Plant, is a plant that flowers once every 10 to 30 years in perpetuity via clone daughter plants. Its periodic and beautiful flowering is symbolic of New York’s periodic state constitutional convention referendum. A consequence of the plant’s flowering so infrequently is that people forget it’s a flowering plant by the time it next flowers.
—Andrew Cuomo, New York Governor, Cuomo 2010 Campaign
It has been fifty years since we had a constitutional convention. All too often, public opinion is not reflected in legislative action in Albany. A constitutional convention that is properly held – with independent, non-elected official delegates – could make real change and reengage the public. We need a citizen-government relationship reboot. This is the time to do it and the constitutional convention could be the vehicle to do it.
—Andrew Cuomo, New York Governor, 2016 State-of-the-State Speech
Convene a Constitutional Commission
The New York Constitution provides that, every 20 years, New Yorkers must vote by referendum on whether to hold a convention to amend the State constitution. The next referendum will take place in 2017, and Governor Cuomo believes a constitutional convention offers voters the opportunity to achieve lasting reform in Albany. The Governor will invest $1 million to create an expert, non-partisan commission to develop a blueprint for a convention. The commission will also be authorized to recommend fixes to the current convention delegate selection process, which experts agree is flawed.
—Andrew Cuomo, New York Governor, 2016 Agenda
J.H. Snider’s Blog
At the general election to be held in the year nineteen hundred fifty-seven, and every twentieth year thereafter, and also at such times as the legislature may by law provide, the question “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” shall be submitted to and decided by the electors of the state; and in case a majority of the electors voting thereon shall decide in favor of a convention for such purpose, the electors of every senate district of the state, as then organized, shall elect three delegates at the next ensuing general election, and the electors of the state voting at the same election shall elect fifteen delegates-at-large. The delegates so elected shall convene at the capitol on the first Tuesday of April next ensuing after their election, and shall continue their session until the business of such convention shall have been completed. Every delegate shall receive for his or her services the same compensation as shall then be annually payable to the members of the assembly and be reimbursed for actual traveling expenses, while the convention is in session, to the extent that a member of the assembly would then be entitled thereto in the case of a session of the legislature. A majority of the convention shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business, and no amendment to the constitution shall be submitted for approval to the electors as hereinafter provided, unless by the assent of a majority of all the delegates elected to the convention, the ayes and noes being entered on the journal to be kept. The convention shall have the power to appoint such officers, employees and assistants as it may deem necessary, and fix their compensation and to provide for the printing of its documents, journal, proceedings and other expenses of said convention. The convention shall determine the rules of its own proceedings, choose its own officers, and be the judge of the election, returns and qualifications of its members. In case of a vacancy, by death, resignation or other cause, of any district delegate elected to the convention, such vacancy shall be filled by a vote of the remaining delegates representing the district in which such vacancy occurs. If such vacancy occurs in the office of a delegate-at-large, such vacancy shall be filled by a vote of the remaining delegates-at-large. Any proposed constitution or constitutional amendment which shall have been adopted by such convention, shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state at the time and in the manner provided by such convention, at an election which shall be held not less than six weeks after the adjournment of such convention. Upon the approval of such constitution or constitutional amendments, in the manner provided in the last preceding section, such constitution or constitutional amendment, shall go into effect on the first day of January next after such approval.
–New York Constitution, Article XIX, §2