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Poll: Voters lean against constitutional convention

Poll: Voters lean against constitutional convention

Support for 'ConCon' appears to have eroded steadily
Poll: Voters lean against constitutional convention
A lawn sign in New York urges voters to reject a ballot referendum calling for a state constitutional convention.
Photographer: Ryan Christopher Jones/The New York Times

LOUDONVILLE — With Election Day less than a week away, New Yorkers are leaning away from approving a constitutional convention ballot proposal, according to a Siena College Research Institute poll released Wednesday.

The poll canvassed people likely to vote in next week's local elections — it showed most people aren't likely to do so — and found that on Proposition 1, which asks about holding the convention, 57 percent of respondents plan to vote "no," while 25 percent plan to vote "yes."

It's a dramatic drop in support from one month ago, when 44 percent of registered voters surveyed said they support a convention. The most recent poll, however, is different because it sought the opinions of "likely" voters, whereas previous polls sought the opinions of all registered voters.

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Since this is an "off-year" election, when only local and county offices are at stake in addition to statewide ballot questions, history would indicate far fewer than half of all voters will actually cast ballots. Turnout in 2013 was only about one-third of registered voters, Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said.

"The decision of whether or not New York should hold a constitutional convention in 2019 will likely be decided by a small minority of New Yorkers — those who both vote in Tuesday's election and remember to flip the ballot to the back to vote on ConCon (the constitutional convention)," Greenberg said. "With less than a week till Election Day, those likely voters are decidedly negative about supporting ConCon."

Support for a convention has been steadily eroding since Siena began polling on the issue in June 2016. At that time, 68 percent of registered voters supported the idea. That had dropped to 63 percent by February, and it fell below 50 percent in July, as more public voices came out against the convention concept.

The state constitution requires the question of holding a convention to be put to the voters every 20 years. The last constitutional convention was in 1967. Voters turned down the idea the last two times it has been on the ballot.

The measure has generated a lot of public debate, with those against the idea ranging from public employee groups to environmental groups concerned that a convention could tamper with Article XIV, which protects state forest lands in the Adirondacks and Catskills as "forever wild."

Groups in favor of a convention include the New York League of Women Voters, the New York Bar Association and Citizens Union. They see a convention as a way to write new state-level anti-corruption measures or institute legal reforms that haven't succeeded in the Legislature.

Among the issues that could come up at a constitutional convention, the polls found that all voters in October — and who likely voted in the new poll — support the ideas of state Legislature term limits, closing a loophole allowing special interests through limited liability companies to make essentially unlimited political donations, direct ballot initiatives and prohibiting outside employment for state legislators.

Most of the likely voters surveyed, however, slightly oppose legalization of marijuana, while larger majorities oppose weakening Article XIV in the interest of economic development or limiting the bargaining rights of public employees.

The poll was conducted Oct. 25-29 by telephone calls with 814 likely voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 points.

Also on the back of the ballot, though Siena didn't poll on this, are propositions to take pensions away from public officials who are convicted of corruption and to create a land bank that would allow towns in the Adirondacks and Catskills to use small amounts of state land for public purposes without going through the proposition process to get an exemption from Article XIV.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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