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Foss: Change is hard. Vote anyway.

Foss: Change is hard. Vote anyway.

A constitutional convention could bring about major changes — or accomplish next to nothing
Foss: Change is hard. Vote anyway.
All booths are filled at Schalmont High School during Election Day in 2014.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Elections are often portrayed as opportunities for change. 

And not just a little bit of change. 

Big, sweeping change — the kind that can transform a town, or a state or even a nation. 

The thinking goes something like this: If you don't like what's going on, or you want things to be different, you should vote, and make your feelings heard. If enough people feel the way you do, change will come. 

The reality is a little more complicated. 

Elections aren't always about change - sometimes they're about keeping things the same. 

Sometimes the incumbents win, or the dominant party remains in power, or the ballot propositions are of little interest or consequence. Sometimes the most you can expect out of an election are baby steps - small, incremental movements toward something bigger and more meaningful. 

Today's election could bring about change — but if it does, it's likely to be a modest sort of change.  

One of the questions New Yorkers will be asked to vote on is whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. 

A constitutional convention could bring about major changes — or accomplish next to nothing. 

I'm voting for it, because it offers a rare opportunity to bypass a calcified state Legislature and address the problems they've steadfastly refused to address, such as corruption and dysfunction in their ranks. 

Of course, there's no guarantee a constitutional convention would do the things I want it to do - and since voters appear to be leaning against it, concerns about a constitutional convention being dominated by lobbyists and political insiders will likely be moot after today. 

Voters might be wary of a constitutional convention, but they're all but certain to approve another measure that will hit corrupt legislators where it hurts: their pensions. 

This ballot item asks voters to amend the state constitution to allow judges to strip lawmakers, governor-appointed officials and other public officials of their pensions if convicted of a felony related to their official duties.

As anti-corruption measures go, this is pretty weak tea. 

It's unlikely to deter corrupt officials from engaging in corruption, and does nothing to address the culture of corruption that enables bad behavior. 

But it's still a no-brainer - a simple way to ensure that taxpayers aren't subsidizing plush benefits for felons. 

At the very least, it sends a message that voters are tired of corrupt lawmakers, and are willing to support measures that hold them accountable for their actions. It's a baby step — the first of many, if we're lucky. 

Changing the culture of corruption in Albany won't be easy, or quick. 

It will require that voters seize the rare opportunities that come along to nudge state government in the right direction, and support candidates and initiatives who seem serious about bucking the system and pushing for reform. 

We can't fix the system overnight, but we can make small fixes and adjustments. 

Sometimes voting is a way to send a message about the kind of world you want to live in, and looking for progress and hope where you can find it. 

Change is hard. 

It takes time, and effort. 

But that's not a reason to stay home on Election Day. 

It's a reason to get out, go to the polls and see what you can do. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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