Recent polling shows a majority of residents plan on taking advantage of a rare opportunity to amend the state constitution in November, despite some distorting the truth in an effort to get them to do the opposite.
Every 20 years, residents are asked whether they want to hold a Constitutional Convention, a process that would involve selecting delegates from across the state to gather in Albany and draft proposed changes to the state’s founding document.
The New York State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, a group that provides history and general information about the convention, has been tracking how New Yorkers feel about holding a convention and how they view corruption in their state overall.
As of Oct. 6, roughly a month before the election, it looks like more New Yorkers support the idea of rewriting the state’s rules with 44 percent of the people supporting a Constitutional Convention and 39 percent opposing the idea.
On Oct. 23, a poll released by the Baruch College in New York City revealed that when those who initially objected to a convention, or who didn’t know anything about it, learned more about the process and what could come from it, most participants said they support voting “yes”. From the polling:
“After hearing about some of the issues that might be considered at a Constitutional Convention, a majority of NYS registered voters – 55% — now favored voting for a Constitutional convention, while 21% were against; 14% would not vote on a Convention, and 10% weren’t sure.”
These developments are significant given there has been a concerted effort by the right and the left to convince voters to vote against a convention and to wait another 20 years to make any changes to a system 89 percent of residents believe is corrupt as hell, according to a 2016 Siena College poll.
Without a trace of irony, most of the resistance has come from a coalition of groups and politicians from both sides of the political spectrum calling themselves New Yorkers Against Corruption. Over the last few months, NYAC has relied on vague assumptions, speculation, and scare tactics to tell people a convention would be a bad idea.
Not only that, but a bunch of shady people have been spreading a great deal of misinformation and flat-out lies about how voting works and the convention process itself. The data on the Clearing House website, however, indicates voters aren’t buying it.
That’s good news for supporters of the Constitutional Convention, and evidence that simply educating people is working for groups like the New York City-based Forward March NY that plan to continue doing so until voting time.
Forward March NY President Clair Chapman said Friday since she and the other members learned about the upcoming vote earlier this year, the goal has always been to educate people.
“As a team we really try to just take all of this information and find ways to make it easier to understand,” Chapman said.
This has been done by drawing attention to specific problems like the need to improve housing or reform the criminal justice system, Chapman said, and framing the Constitutional Convention is an alternative to the traditional legislative process and the business-as-usual attitude in Albany that has yielded little positive change up to this point.
Of course, this involved hours of research and talking with experts and others knowledgeable on various issues, but Chapman said being armed with the facts doesn’t mean it’s been easy to cut through the misinformation groups like NYAC have injected into the conversation.
“I feel this collective group has really done a good job of gaslighting everybody into not hearing sense and not…probing things,” Chapman said. “It’s very disturbing. You’re kind of going against all these set barriers.”
Even with these obstacles, Chapman said Forward March NY is already thinking about the types of delegates to a possible Constitutional Convention members would support. They will work to make sure that at least half of them are women and that the delegate pool reflects the backgrounds and identities of people across the state.
There’s no doubt groups like NYAC are going to try and convince people that amending the state constitution is a bad idea while their more unscrupulous counterparts aim to keep misinformation about the convention going to the bitter end.
However, Chapman suggested the next time someone asks a New Yorker to vote against the Constitutional Convention, they should immediately ask themselves a second question.
“Could you afford to wait 20 years to right some of the wrongs that are highly exposed right now?” Chapman said. “If you can’t afford to wait, who can? If you believe in progressive change and you’re not willing to fight for it, I would love to know what progressive protections we have that weren’t fought for? I would love to be part of a generation that tried.”
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