A People’s Convention: Is it possible?

Last Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to attend a Town Hall meeting in my hometown of Rotterdam to discuss a “People’s Convention to Reform New York.”  The event was hosted by my assemblyman, George Amedore, and the Assembly Minority Leader, Brian Kolb.

It’s an intriguing idea.  It’s an opportunity to change the New York State Constitution a bit earlier than normal.  Let me share what I learned during the town hall meeting.

Every 20 years a question appears on the ballot during the November general election.  It asks voters whether or not they want to establish a convention to change the constitution.  That question will appear on the 2017 ballot.  Kolb is sponsoring legislation, (Assembly Bill A09157), to put that question to voters earlier than 2017.  With so many people upset with NY state government, now might be the time to make some changes.

Of course, the process would not occur overnight.  There are numerous steps in the process:

  • The legislation to put the question on the ballot earlier than 2017 requires approval by both the Assembly and Senate.  It is unlikely to occur in time for the 2010 election.  November 2011 is more likely.
  • The governor would have to sign the bill into law.  According to Kolb, all of the current gubernatorial candidates support the legislation.
  • A majority of voters must approve the convention for it to occur.
  • If approved by voters, convention delegates would be elected the following election year.
  • Three delegates would be elected from each State Senate district.  15 statewide delegates would be elected.
  • To get on the ballot, prospective delegates must collect 1000 signatures from registered NY voters of any political party.  (That number is 10,000 for statewide delegates.)
  • A run-off would take place during the primary elections.  The top nine vote-getters in each district would be on the November ballot.
  • Political parties cannot contribute money to delegate candidate campaigns.
  • Any delegate already serving as an elected official or convention lobbyist would have to resign their elected/lobbyist positions prior to being sworn in as a delegate.
  • The convention would start a few months later in April.  It would meet in Albany.
  • The elected delegates would determine the agenda for the convention, and ultimately any potential constitutional changes.
  • Any constitutional changes would go before the voters.  Voters can approve or disapprove the changes.
  • Kolb claimed the convention could cost around $30 million.  (Delegates would be paid, and staff members would be hired.)

Those are some of the high points.  More details are available on Reform New York’s website.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Realistically, it looks like there are huge hurdles that could prevent the convention from taking place.
  • There is risk that the convention could make things worse… but really, is that possible?
  • I would expect huge bucks to be spent by groups and individuals opposed to the convention.  If the convention came to fruition, I would expect intensive lobbying from large numbers of companies, organizations, and special interest groups.
  • This could be a tremendous opportunity for Ordinary Citizens to create positive changes in New York government!

Currently, I’m still on the fence, although I am leaning toward an opinion that this would be a positive step for New York.  I would seriously consider running for a delegate position if it gets to that point.

I am still doing my research on this topic, and I will share what I learn on this blog.  I am eager to hear your opinions/factual corrections of a “People’s Convention to Reform New York.”

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