In the November 2017 election, the people of New York State will vote on Proposition 1. Voters will need to turn over the ballot in order to vote, yes or no. Citizens Union vigorously urges New Yorkers to vote YES. We firmly believe that New Yorkers must stand for a democracy worthy of its promise. A Constitutional Convention provides a once in a generation opportunity to “open” the New York State Constitution and make much-needed reforms to improve the performance of our State government, strengthen the integrity of our political institutions and reform our broken 20th-century voting and electoral systems.
Citizens Union wants a State government that is not corrupt and lacks the regrettably all too common “pay to play” culture in which campaign contributions unduly influence legislative outcomes and the awarding of contracts. New Yorkers have a right to that. New Yorkers also deserve fairer and more competitive elections, where candidates can get on the ballot easier, and more ways and days to cast ballots. Fairer and simpler elections would increase voter turnout, improve accountability, and decrease corruption. A “cleaner” democracy will result in better schools, better health care, a stronger economy, a cleaner environment, and a safer and freer state.
In our effort to achieve a YES vote, Citizens Union is mobilizing New Yorkers in support of a Constitutional Convention. We have a positive vision for political reform and a government that works for ALL New Yorkers. The Better New York campaign offers the promise of HOPE for what is possible and how we can better serve all who live in the City and State. In the past, too many succumbed to negative campaigns and fear mongering, leading them to reject previous calls for a State Constitutional Convention in 1957, 1977, and 1997. Our campaign brings the civic-minded public together in coalition to effect positive change.
Our guiding principles for reform within a State Constitutional Convention include:
Fair Elections. Elections should be impartial, neutral and equitable, minimizing partisan and financial interests. Voting should be accessible, easy, consequential, and expected.
Honest and Ethical Government. The constitution should include stronger ethics regulations, with vigorous oversight and established ethical requirements for public officials.
Accountable and Balanced Government. As the Legislature and governor work together to pass laws and budgets, their actions should be transparent, with a more equitable balance of power.
A More Effective Court System. The judicial branch must be updated to streamline and enhance operations, with a consolidated trial court system and merit-based appointments for judges.
Robust and Functional Local Government. Municipal governments must be empowered to manage more of their affairs and to represent and provide services to New Yorkers adequately.
Methodical Maintenance of State Constitution. The constitution is appropriately difficult to change, yet there should be mechanisms to conduct targeted upkeep, ensuring implementation of the will of the people.
Citizens Union recognizes that many advocates, special interests and even some of our allies may have significant concerns regarding opening up the Constitution in this way. Citizens Union greatly values the fundamental rights and protections provided in New York State’s Constitution, including many that provide basic freedoms analogous to those provided in the U.S. Constitution, as well as additional rights and protections in such areas as labor, education, the environment and care for the needy. Citizens Union would not support any effort to weaken or eliminate those valuable rights and protections. After a YES vote, Citizens Union will work to ensure that the convention would focus on a platform for democratic reform. Though an unlimited Constitutional Convention does present some risk to currently codified protections, we believe that this risk is worth taking, as it provides the opportunity to construct governmental systems that improve representative democracy through increased accountability, transparency, effectiveness, and ethical conduct. With a better functioning democracy, New Yorkers will create a more accountable State government that will more efficiently serve the public interest than ever before.