Giving New York voters a greater voice

Giving voters a greater voice in their government is the goal of legislation the state senate has approved that authorizes a constitutional amendment (S.1370) allowing voters to enact and amend laws through initiative and referendum.

Initiative and referendum is one of the most powerful reform tools in politics because it gives the people the ability to make informed decisions to directly change the powers and priorities of their government. It gives people the power to directly decide on ideas that have strong public support, yet have not been acted on by their state or local governments.

The proposal would amend the state constitution to allow for direct initiative and referendum, whereby measures are placed on the ballot at the November general election for a popular vote after a certain number of signatures are collected. Under the proposal, signatures from five percent of the total voters statewide in the last gubernatorial election would be required. To ensure that a measure has a broad base of statewide support, the signatures would be required to include at least 5,000 signatures of residents from at least three-fifths of the state's congressional districts.

If government is truly the voice of the people, then it just makes sense that voters should have a more direct say in how their government operates and works for them. New Yorkers want more power over their public policy decisions, and this legislation will enable and empower them to do just that.

Initiative and referendum represents the very core of democracy - ensuring that all people have a voice in the democratic process. It is an idea grounded in the belief that power ultimately rests in the hands of the people. The proposal continues my commitment to ensure that the voices of all New Yorkers are heard.

Several political parties have weighed in to support the bill. The Conservative and Independence Parties of New York State have expressed their endorsement of the measure, arguing that by offering voters the chance to have a direct voice in state and local government, more people will become interested and involved in the affairs of their governments.

An initiative is a proposed statutory or constitutional change that is placed on the ballot for a public vote. Referendum refers to the power of the people to place on the ballot laws that already have been enacted by the legislature to either accept or reject them in whole or in part. Approximately one-half of states across the nation have some form of initiative and referendum.

Once on the ballot, an initiative or referendum would become law if it receives a majority of the votes cast. A measure enacted through initiative and referendum could not be repealed or amended by the legislature for at least two years, and any modifications after that period could only be made with voter approval. Measures could be amended or repealed by the voters through the initiative and referendum process at any time.

Under the proposal, the state constitution could also be amended through initiative and referendum, but measures to amend the state constitution could only be voted on during a general election in which state legislators are on the ballot, meaning every two years, and the measure would also have to be approved by the voters at two such elections.

The bill also allows for initiative and referendum at the county, city, town or village level. To propose any measure at the local level, signatures from at least five percent of the residents in the municipality who voted in the last gubernatorial election would be required. A measure would become law if it receives the approval of the majority of voters within the municipality.

Any amendment to the state constitution, such as this proposal, must be approved by two separately elected legislatures and thereafter by a majority of the voters of the state.

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