How does New York State change its constitution?

Earlier this month, the New York State Senate and Assembly reached a deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in which they pledged to introduce a constitutional amendment that would create an independent commission to draw future legislative districts. Gov. Cuomo declared, “This agreement will permanently reform the redistricting process in New York to once and for all end self-interested and partisan gerrymandering,” and said the deal fulfilled his promise for an overhaul.

But once the legislature introduces a measure, what then? We want to know: How does New York State amend its constitution?

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What we found

First, any proposed amendment must be submitted to the attorney general, who then has 20 days to issue a written opinion on how the changes may affect the state constitution. 

The state Senate and Assembly then vote on the proposed amendment. If they both approve the measure by a majority vote, then the proposal moves on to round two in the next full legislative session following the general election of new Assembly members. If the legislature once again passes the proposed amendment by a majority vote, then it goes to the public for consideration at the polls.

When exactly voters come into the picture is up to lawmakers. As reported by the Times Union this morning, supporters of the amendment are hoping for it to appear on the 2014 ballot. This would allow for time to educate voters and would put the measure on the ballot during a gubernatorial election year, which brings relatively high turnout.

Even if the legislature renegs on the deal with Cuomo, every 20 years New York State’s voters have a chance to demand a revision of the state constitution. Their next chance will come in 2017, when November’s ballot will include a measure proposing a constitutional convention. If voters say yes (note: they never have since the automatic ballot measure started in 1957), they then select three delegates from each state Senate district and 15 at-large delegates.

We’re not finished yet: Once a constitutional convention releases its proposed amendments, voters have to go back to the polls within six weeks to vote them up or down. Last time they had a chance, in 1967, they rejected every proposed amendment.

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