“The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and alter their constitutions of government.” President George Washington's Farewell Address
The primary path for amendment of the New York State Constitution, the exclusive path used in recent history, is through the legislature. As detailed below, two separately elected legislatures must vote to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The proposed amendment then must be passed at referendum by New York State voters to become part of the state constitution.
Under Section 1 of Article XIX, an amendment to the New York State Constitution:
- May be proposed by a member in either house of the state legislature.
- Is then referred to the state Attorney General who must render a written opinion within twenty days to both legislative houses “…as to the effect of such amendment or amendments upon other provisions of the constitution.” But the constitution explicitly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to act, or act timely, shall not be allowed to block consideration of an amendment.
Note: This is one of the few constitutionally defined duties of the state Attorney General.
- Upon receipt of this opinion, a vote in both houses may be held. An affirmative vote in each house of a majority all members elected is required for first passage of an amendment.
Note: the process for consideration of proposed constitutional amendments within each legislative house once they are introduced is subject to the rules of the Senate and Assembly, as administered by the legislative leadership. A vote on a proposed amendment in each house is not mandatory. In New York’s strong leader system, such a vote is conditional upon agreement by leaders in both the Senate and Assembly to allow it to occur.
- The amendment, and the record of the vote upon it, is then entered upon the journals of both houses.
- The amendment is then referred to the next elected legislature for second consideration. That is, an intervening election must occur.
Example: If for example a proposed constitutional amendment were passed in either 2011 or 2012, it would remain on the legislature’s agenda until the 2012 legislative election were held, to be given second consideration in 2012 or 2013 when the members elected in 2012 were seated.
- The proposed amendment must be “published” for three months before the second elected legislature acts upon it (“…the time of making such choice.”).
- If the amendment receives second passage by a majority of elected members of both legislative houses it must be offered to the voters at referendum to the people “…in such manner and at such times as the legislature shall prescribe”
Note: the legislature controls the descriptive language presented to the people and the specific time at which the people are asked to act. (e.g. general election, special or primary election, odd or even numbered year)
Note again: There is no requirement of gubernatorial approval of a proposed constitutional amendment.
- If a majority of voters actually voting on the amendment approves it, it becomes part of the constitution on January first of the year following this vote.
Note: the explicit requirement is a majority of those voting on the amendment, not the more demanding majority of those voting in the election, as in some other states.
Revising or Amending the New York State Constitution
Article XIX of the New York Constitution makes provision for four ways to change the fundamental governing document of the state, two for amendment and two for revision. Specific targeted change of a single provision is generally characterized as an “amendment.” More comprehensive change of large portions of the document, or the entire document, is generally characterized as a “revision.”
Amendment of the New York State constitution may occur either upon legislative initiative, or upon the recommendation of a constitutional convention. The convention route has not been used for targeted amendment in the modern history of New York. When the legislative route is used, in the manner detailed below, there is no requirement for gubernatorial approval of a constitutional amendment.
Revision of the constitution is achieved through calling a constitutional convention. A convention may be called either by the legislature or by the people. The legislature may call a convention at any time. The current state constitution requires that a statewide referendum be held automatically, every twenty years, on whether a constitutional convention should be held. This referendum question will next be on the ballot in November 2017.
Section 1. Any amendment or amendments to this constitution may be proposed in the senate and assembly ... [if] agreed to by a majority of the members elected to each of the two houses ... and referred to the next regular legislative session convening after the succeeding general election of members of the assembly ... [and if] agreed to by a majority of all the members elected to each house, then it shall be the duty of the legislature to submit each proposed amendment or amendments to the people for approval ...