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Local voters crush constitutional convention proposal

Local voters crush constitutional convention proposal

Strong voter turnout seen in local counties
Local voters crush constitutional convention proposal
Commissioners for local boards of elections reported good voter turnout in an off election year.
Photographer: Ethan Travis/For The Daily Gazette

Editor's note: This article was corrected at 5:35 p.m. Wednesday. It stated Proposal 2 was defeated statewide.

Capital Region voters on Tuesday joined the rest of the state in overwhelmingly defeating a proposal for a state constitutional convention.

The measure, Proposal 1 on the Election Day ballot, was voted down in Schenectady, Saratoga, Schoharie, Fulton and Montgomery counties. Statewide, a total of 2,655,947 voters opposed the convention, while 530,199 voted in favor of it.

Commissioners for local boards of elections reported good voter turnout in an off election year that featured no major state or national races.

RELATED: New York voters reject constitutional convention

"For a local race year, it's higher than in past years," said Darlene Harris, Republican commissioner for the Schenectady County Board of Elections.

"Certainly presidential, governor years, those you'll see the turnout," Harris added. "We don't really have a great idea or a firm idea of the exact number involved, but at mid-day we took a look at it, and we were up over 2015 or 2013."

"We were well above the 2015 figure," added Amy Hild, the Democratic commissioner.

Clifford Hay, Democratic commissioner for the Schoharie County Board of Elections, checked polls in eight county towns and said turnout was 43 percent by late afternoon.

"It will be way over 40 percent by the time we're done with the night," Hay said. "I'm pleased with the turnout."

Hay added that he doesn't believe the propositions were the driving factors.

"There wasn't much comment on the propositions," Hay said. "Most of them didn't even know about the propositions."

In Montgomery County, Democratic Commissioner Terry Bieniek said early totals put 5,667 people in county polling places, out of 18,017 registered voters.

"I think for an off year, it was very good," Bieniek said. "I think a lot of them came out for the propositions."

Proposal 1 asked voters if they would allow a convention to revise the state constitution.

Had the measure passed, the state's constitution would have been opened for its first large-scale rewrite since 1938. A constitutional convention was approved in 1965, but proposed changes were subsequently voted down by state voters.

A Tuesday approval would have allowed 200-plus delegates to propose changes to the state's 60,000-word governing document. Any changes made would have faced public scrutiny - state voters would have voted to adopt or discard the alterations.

Here's how counties voted, with votes reported as of 10:30 p.m.

  • Schenectady, with 70 percent of all election districts reporting: 18,143 NO; 2,643 YES.
  • Saratoga, with 56 percent of polling places reporting: 24,613 NO; 3,580 YES.
  • Schoharie, with all districts reporting: 7,942 NO; 973 YES.
  • Fulton, with all districts reporting: 9,443 NO; 1,275 YES
  • Montgomery, with 24 percent of election districts reporting: 1,676 NO; 194 YES

In the other ballot questions:

  • Proposal 2, which would have allowed judges to reduce or revoke the state pension of any public officer convicted of a felony related to his or her duties, was approved by vast majorities in all five local counties. It passed statewide by a margin of 72.8 percent to 27.2 percent.
  • Proposal 3, which called for the creation of a 250-acre land bank to offset infrastructure construction in the Adirondacks and Catskills, had been approved or was leading in all five counties as of late Tuesday night. But voting was close; in Schenectady County, with 70 percent of precincts reporting, 10,632 people had voted for the proposal and 9,498 had voted against. Statewide, the margin was similarly tight, with 52 percent voting yes, and 48 percent voting no.

The constitutional convention issue, which appears on ballots every 20 years, received the most publicity.

Groups such as Planned Parenthood and the New York Rifle and Pistol Association came out against a new convention. So did the New York Right to Life Committee, the United Federation of Teachers, Adirondack Wild and the Adirondack Council.

Backers of the proposition included the New York State League of Women Voters and the New York State Bar Association.

Groups that supported a "yes" vote were interested in campaign finance reform, as well as changes in redistricting, term limits and the legalization of marijuana. Other groups supported those issues but also supported a "no" vote to a convention.

Sharon Stern Gerstman, president of the state Bar Association, said her group heard a lot from people who said they did not believe a constitutional convention was the way to go.

"They agreed that so many things needed amendment, but we thought the best chance of doing it was by constitutional convention," Gerstman said Tuesday night in a phone interview from Boston.

"Obviously, our opponents have convinced the voting public there are better ways to do it," Gerstman added, "so I'd like to issue a challenge to all the 'no' voters and all the groups that worked for a 'no' vote, to work with the Legislature to make those changes ... I hope they will do that instead of just going back to the way things always are for the next 20 years."

Dave Gibson, of Adirondack Wild, was glad people voted against the proposal.

"I think voters wisely decided not to vote to hold one, given the way delegates are chosen," said Gibson, who lives in Ballston. "They're chosen by Senate district, most of them in an election. There would have been a lot of outside money coming into the state, and I think a lot of people were afraid of that."

State Sen. James N. Tedisco, R-Glenville, believed voters did not want to open what he described as a "Pandora's box."

"Those who talked reform and transparency in calling for support of the con con were hoisted on their own petard," Tedisco said in a Facebook message. "They offered no reform or transparency in how the convention would be regulated.

"Things have changed since 1966, when citizen delegates might have been put in place and the state didn't face the dysfunction it does now," Tedisco added. "Voters' worst fears would be that those who are running and managing government would now be running and managing the con con."

John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said the council believes there are better ways to amend the state's constitution.

"There are two ways to change a constitution if you don't like it — constitutional convention, which we thought would be very risky for the things we hold dear in the current constitution — or by constitutional amendment," Sheehan said. "And that's been successful in changing some things for Adirondack communities in the past, and it could work for other issues as well."

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124, [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

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