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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

NY constitutional convention ballot isue could boost Long Island turnout

The referendum coming up Tuesday could draw out more Democrats, a party chairman predicts.

Efforts to bring out the vote for a

Efforts to bring out the vote for a referendum on a state constitutional convention are likely to spike the normally low turnout on Election Day and affect Long Island's closest races. Photo Credit: AP / Alexander F. Yuan

Intense efforts to bring out the vote on a referendum for a state constitutional convention could spike normally low off-year turnout in Tuesday’ elections and become a wild card in Long’s Island’s closest races.

An odd coalition that includes public employee unions and the state Conservative Party have used phone banks, bumper stickers and even a TV ad depicting a state constitutional convention as a bar scene reminiscent of the famous one in “Star Wars.”

They hope to rally voters against a convention, which polls show voters oppose 57 percent to 25 percent.

“I’ve never seen anything so organized,” said Desmond Ryan, a veteran Albany lobbyist.

New York City-based Citizens Union, the New York Bar Association and the League of Women Voters back a convention but have fewer resources.

The impact of the referendum could be significant because voting in years without a presidential or governor’s race is low, hovering around the 20 percent mark.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he sees a 3 percent spike in turnout due to the referendum, and that will help the party in local races.

“It will help us because the people against the convention are generally our people — the public sector unions like teachers, government workers and police” concerned the recent “radical wave could sweep a convention” and diminish or erase pension and health benefits, Schaffer said.

“They don’t want to lose what they spent their entire life working so hard for,” he said.

Joseph Mondello, Nassau Republican chairman, also sees increased turnout. But he couldn’t assess its impact on races such as the tight Nassau county executive contest between Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Jack Martins. Both candidates oppose a convention.

Given the Nassau Republicans’ control of the county legislature, the county executive’s post and the largest town, Hempstead, Mondello said, “With us, it’s a 50-50 deal; I’m not sure it will help or hurt us.”

The state constitution itself requires a public referendum every 20 years on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Without a convention, any constitutional reform must be approved by two separate sessions of the State Legislature and a public referendum.

While the last convention referendum failed in 1997, political consultant Michael Dawidziak attributed this year’s frenzied anti-convention campaign to a new factor not then in play: the internet.

“The one thing that created a fear factor is social media, something that didn’t really exist 20 years ago,” said Dawidziak, who works primarily for Republicans.

While early polling showed public backing for the convention — a 44 percent-to-39 percent edge as late as early October — the numbers now are lopsided against one, although issues such as term limits and ending campaign funding loopholes for limited liability companies could come up during a convention.

Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of the state’s League of Women Voters chapter, said her organization opposed the convention 20 years ago due to unhappiness with the delegate selection process. While that problem remains, the league is backing a convention because “we are so frustrated” about the lack of reform, she said.

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