NY State Ballot Proposals 2017

It’s that time again, when voting matters! And in NY State we have an even more fun time coming up with my favorite, the questions! The election is less than a month away, which means we don’t have much time to decide.

The thing is, unlike recent years where the questions were easy, this year there are three tricky ones. I’m not entirely convinced which way to go. Since enough people here live in NY State, and others like to talk shit even if they don’t, let’s figure out the “right” answers.

Also, I’m sure there are many flaws in my understandings of these questions, in which case, let’s get those misconceptions fixed! Making sure I understand the proposals properly is part of why I made this thread.

Question 1: The BIG one. Should NY State have a constitutional convention?

A NY State constitutional convention has the same problems has a federal one. ANYTHING can happen. As much as it might be exciting that they could rewrite the constitution to legalize weed or guarantee health care, they could also rewrite it to be evil! Anything that is within the limits set by the US constitution is up for grabs.

Of course, even if we have the convention, the constitution or amendments they come up with have to be approved in another direct vote by the people. So why not have a convention, and then just vote no if they come up with awful proposals? Well, what if they come up with evil and then the people of NY vote yes??? OH NO! Also, if we just end up voting no, do we really want to sit through all that convention stuff in the first place? We can just avoid the whole thing by voting no to begin with.

I’m also worried about who will have a say at such a convention. The last time we had one in 1967 it was people like RFK, Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits. Who will it be this time? Rym’s boss Bloomberg?

If you look around, sentiment for or against the convention is really non-partisan. People seem to be going with yes or no based on whether their key issue is helped or harmed by the status quo. I do feel like I see more left leaning interests in favor and more right-leaning interests against. The NYPD are also against it, which really makes me want to vote yes.

The thing is, I’m a coward, and right now the fear of the results of a bad convention are outweighing the excitement of having a convention in the first place.

Question 2: Should we take away the pensions of public officials who committed a felony during the course of their duties?

This is another tough one. On the one hand, it seems obvious. Someone who commits a felony during the course of their duties is most usually going to be referring to police officers. Though it could also refer to other public servants. Imagine someone embezzling state money or something. If they do something like that, shouldn’t their pensions also be forfeit? I mean, fuck 'em, right?

Then again, from a labor rights perspective, why should we? They paid into those pension funds. They served their time for their crimes in prison or whatever. That’s their money. They will probably need it when they are old, are presumably out of prison, and have learned their lesson. Imagine if I lost my 401k because I committed some computer crime at work. That would not be OK.

This is a tough one. I am slightly leaning towards no. But knowing that the cops want me to vote no, makes me want to vote yes. I could be swayed either way with a good argument.

Question 3: Should we allow 250 acres of state land to be used for some projects?

This is another tough one. The environmentalist in us all immediately wants to vote no. Building on a forest preserve, no! Leave the beautiful trees and nature of NY alone please.

Then again, they are going to add 250 other acres to replace this, so the total amount of preserved land won’t change much. We just need to allow for projects on these specific preserved lands because they are in the way. There is also existing infrastructure on these lands we can’t maintain properly because it is preserved.

Also, it will only be for approved projects. This includes things like sewers, wells, and telco lines out in the sticks. It includes maintenance like crappy bridges and power lines already existing in the woods right next to highways. Also it includes bike lanes for me! Sadly, it also includes lots of skiing for Rym.

I am cautiously barely leaning towards yes. Even the slightest of good points would tip me over to no.

Other NYers, how should we vote? Non NYers, how would you vote if you were cool like us?

Looking at them in reverse order:

  • The land use amendment seems like it might be a good idea since it is talking about trading one parcel of land for the other. The scope seems limited enough.

  • Felons losing state pensions does seem like it’s going to be an easy walk to a yes. It’s a gut feeling kind of question, and that does make it really easy to second-guess. But I’m leaning towards yes on this one because I know NY has problems with corruption. And having there be a cost to corruption makes sense to me. If someone is committing a felony in the course of their duties, they aren’t serving the public trust that put them into that position in the first place, and I think that implicitly violates their contract with the people. A cop or judge who’s pocketing money isn’t doing their job in the first place, so why are they entitled to the benefits of a duty they aren’t doing?

  • I’ve got a lot of the same reservations you’re talking about here in terms of a new constitution for New York State. Who are the people who’ll be calling the tune? And if we can’t trust that process, why should we step up to the folding table and play Three Card Monte? I know that there could be positive changes, but I don’t think at this moment, they’re likely to come out of this process.


In theory, this makes sense. The problem with this line of thought is that studies have shown that when it comes to committing crime, deterrence doesn’t really work. A potential criminal doesn’t expect to get caught, so he or she isn’t thinking about what the punishment will be.

From the National Institute of Justice:

“Laws and policies designed to deter crime by focusing mainly on increasing the severity of punishment are ineffective partly because criminals know little about the sanctions for specific crimes. More severe punishments do not “chasten” individuals convicted of crimes, and prisons may exacerbate recidivism.”

From what I’ve heard that’s not completely true. I’ve read that harsher penalties only apply as a deterrent up to a small amount. Like having something be worth 5 years in jail is an equal deterrent to having it be worth 25 years in jail.

However below 5 years and increased penalties do have a small deterrent effect. So like if it carries a year in jail more people will do it than if it carries 2 years in jail.

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That makes sense when you’re talking about long sentences, since they’re mostly just abstract numbers. I don’t think the human mind can really comprehend the difference between 10 years in jail versus 15.

That said, most criminals still don’t expect to be caught, and I’m not sure how taking away someone’s pension plays into the psychology of deterrence, since the person will have already completed whatever sentence he or she was ordered to serve.

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Yeah, I do agree about not expecting to be caught. And my pointing out relative deterrence here is kinda pure pedantry as it doesn’t really relate to the question at hand, whether or not to take away a pension.

Maybe better to approach this from an ethics perspective than a pragmatic one?

Ethically I think Scott had it right. They served their time, and they paid into it. That right there is enough.

Also (just to keep my wildly swerving train of thought crooked) I think a pension is closer to 25 years in jail than it is to 1 or 2. It’s kinda abstract and distant. You have no concept of what your pension actually means to you until you’re like 2-3 years away from getting it and finding out what it pays every month.

So even pragmatically I think it may be better not to. The more I think about it the more I think it’s probably better not to.

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Fuck I forgot about the damn cops. Scott had it really right, this is hard.

It is really hard.

What if there was some way to kind of subtract the amount of time the person spent committing his or her crimes from the the pension amount? Like, if you could figure out how much a person contributes to his or her pension on an hourly basis, you could then figure out or estimate how much time was spent committing the crime, and then subtract that amount of money from the total pension?

If you want to do ANYTHING to the pensions at all, you have to vote yes because this is in the state constitution, and voting yes will change it.

§7. After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired. (New. Adopted by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938.)

So I guess it’s less of a question of what’s like theoretically right in an abstract sense (that’s basically known, it’s not to touch pensions as part of crimes)

VS how much I hate cops. I think I may hate cops more than I value the possible gains from doing the “right thing”

I got my voting guide in the mail today. It explains all the candidates I can vote for and also the proposals. Not only does it contain plain english explanations of the proposals, it also contains a list of pro/con for each one. Reading it now has me leaning towards yes/yes/yes.

The no reasons for convention were full of fear mongering like. We’ll lose free public education! The yes list was like “This is our chance to fix the election system to get same-day registration and such.”

It also gave a complete list of people who are considered “public officers” who can lose their pensions.
The list includes:

  • elected officials
  • officials appointed by the governor
  • managers and CFOs of counties, cities, towns, and villages, heads of state
  • heads of state and local government departments, divisions, boards, commissions, bureaus, public benefit corporations, and public authorities.
  • judges and justices of the sate court system
  • state employees who are designated by law as policy-makers

Not fire fighters, not cops, not anyone else. This really will only affect people who are guilty of corruption. Fuck 'em.

And for proposal 3 they could only come up with one reason to vote no. “The current process requiring a constitutional amendment to develop “forever wild” lands ensures that voters can control the process and asssess the costs and benefits of each specific development project.”

Uh, that’s exactly what is happening here. They just bundled a bunch of small projects together in one to avoid there being like, 100 things to vote on individually. Why couldn’t you come up with any criticisms of these specific development projects? Perhaps there aren’t so many? It really seems like it is a fair land trade. 250 acres isn’t a lot, and we’re replacing them with 250 other acres. They aren’t using the acres for anything evil either. They are fixing highways and bridges that already exist and are dangerous, and making sure wells near the highway have clean water. Stuff like that. This isn’t giving the land to an evil mining co… That happened before.

Who distributes that? That is an awesome thing assuming it’s not unreasonably biased.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board.


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It may sound like a good idea in theory, but I promise you, you don’t want the Constitutional Convention. Before calling genuine concerns “fear mongering” or balking at opponents paying more to block it, you may want to actually consider who is blocking it (beyond the police) and why.

In 2017, as required every 20 years, New Yorkers will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention. A constitutional convention is an open-ended process led by specially-elected delegates to amend the state constitution.

The NYCLU firmly opposes the constitutional convention. It would place in serious danger our state protections for civil rights and civil liberties. That’s because the process is rigged to favor the interests of the powerful.

Constitutional Convention Overview (PDF)

Here’s why:

  • The selection of delegates to constitutional conventions is based upon gerrymandered state Senate districts. These districts have been drawn to curb the power of voters and reinforce existing political power.

  • The at-large election of the delegates to the convention reduces the influence of minority voters. New York is a diverse state, but that wouldn’t be reflected in the make-up of the delegates.

  • The rules and process are determined by delegates, with no built-in public checks on how a convention operates.

In the end, a constitutional convention is no more insulated from horse-trading, insider politics, and special interest influence than the usual process in Albany – but the stakes would be so much higher.

The constitutional convention would put at risk state protections that in many instances are stronger than those under federal law. This includes free expression, separation of church and state, the rights of criminal defendants – and more.

Given the threat to our liberties posed by Washington and the Trump administration, New Yorkers cannot afford to treat civil liberties and constitutional rights as political bargaining chips.

That’s why the NYCLU prefers the more deliberative process that already exists for amending the state constitution when needed: two consecutive legislative approvals and then approval by voters statewide.

Constitutional Convention Timeline:
• November 7, 2017 general election: New Yorkers vote whether to convene a constitutional convention.
• November 6, 2018 general election: If a convention has been approved, voters select delegates via general election ballot.
• April 2, 2019: Constitutional Convention deliberations begin.
• November 5, 2019 general election: Amendments proposed by the convention are presented to the voters for approval.

Source: https://www.nyclu.org/en/campaigns/constitutional-convention

More in-depth, cited reasoning for opposition: https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/concon_201709.pdf

Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts believes in empowering all New Yorkers and supports a process that has checks and balances and cannot be manipulated by special interests. We see this process as vulnerable to insiders and conservative outsiders with big wallets that can make us as a state go backward instead of forward.

In these perilous times with DC extremists bent on rolling back our access to reproductive health, having New York protect our rights is needed more than ever. However, we do not see the constitutional convention as a safe way to protect our reproductive rights because we could lose more than we gain. We believe the legislative and constitutional amendment process is the safest and most inclusive way to strengthen our laws and protect all New Yorkers, especially those who are underrepresented.

Source: https://www.newyorkersforchoice.com/

A few of the other organizations opposing it: Citizen Action, the WFP, the Sierra Club, SEIU, AFL-CIO, the Coalition for Economic Justice, LGBT Network, NYSUT, and so on.

It’s definitely not an easy choice. It’s really a matter of mood. When I think about the bad things a convention could do, I definitely do not want to have one. When I think of good things it could do, I want to have one.

Will special interests control it? They’ll certainly give lots of money to potential delegates who serve them. But we still get to vote for the delegates. We could even become delegates ourselves. Just gotta go out and get a ton of signatures. Maybe that’s worth the effort.

Also, considering that there are 204 delegates, 3 from each senate district, and 15 at large. I would presume it would be controlled by democrats since there would be presumably no IDC factor involved. And then in the end, we still get to vote on whatever they come up with. The last time they had a convention, the voters rejected it.

There is a possible future where you have a convention that proposes single payer health care, weed legalization, etc. Do we take the risk of a convention that does evil in order for the chance of a convention that does good?

Maybe abstaining is the right answer.

My primary reservations are:

  1. New York State Senate districts need to be un-gerrymandered to ensure real proportional representation for New York City.

  2. We need to get a handle on how to prevent Russian state actors from interfering.

My main fear of anything in New York is that the over-represented state will further restrict the under-represented city. For example, the state should have ZERO say in NYC income taxes or the MTA. We get around some stuff by organizing the boroughs into entire COUNTIES, but if the state constitution changed, we could lose even that relative self-determination.

I need to know more about how the 15 at large delegates are selected. If it goes to the majority, those are basically 15 bonus seats for NYC.

I guess if the approval of the convention’s decisions is purely a popular vote, then NYC can veto any shenanigans regardless (assuming the vote is fair).

Yeah, this info was not included in the ballot proposal. Maybe I’ll just ask my state senator. He is way awesome.