Making Democracy Work

President's Report

Messages from your LWV President

January / February Message from the President

The State League has asked local Leagues to discuss whether or not to support holding a Constitutional Convention. The Schenectady League will be meeting on January 18th at noon at the 1st Reformed Church to determine our recommendation.

There are two ways to amend the NYS Constitution. The first way, and one which we are quite familiar with, is for an amendment to be proposed by a state legislator. It must be passed by two consecutive legislative sessions and is then submitted for voter approval. This is an incremental process, generally a good thing when considering a change in the basic framework of government.

The second way to amend the State Constitution, through a Constitutional Convention, is a more comprehensive approach. Every twenty years, the question of whether to hold a Constitutional Convention appears on the ballot and is due to appear in November 2017. If the voters say yes, in November 2018, delegates will be elected. When the delegates meet in April 2019, every aspect of the State Constitution is subject to change. The proposed amendments are then submitted to the voters, probably in November 2019, as a single package, as several groups of amendments or as single amendments, as determined by the convention delegates.

Since 1777, NYS has held nine Constitutional Conventions. Currently, we are governed by the Constitution drafted in 1894, which has been amended over 225 times. It is one of the longest state constitutions and is seven times longer than the U.S. Constitution. The last Convention was held in 1967. Amendments were submitted to voters as a single ballot question which was rejected by the voters.

Among the issues we'll discuss on January 18th are the cost of holding a Constitutional Convention and how delegates are selected, i.e. should political insiders be allowed to run as delegates and how do we achieve a representative group of delegates.

Some view a Constitutional Convention as an opportunity to modernize and streamline the Constitution since we live in a very different world than that of 1894. Others are worried that a Convention might undermine protections that are currently in the Constitution, including the forever wild protection of the Adirondack Park, reproductive choice, public employee pensions and the Blaine Amendment which prohibits the use of public dollars for religious schools.

As you can see, we'll be discussing a wide range of interesting topics on January 18th. I hope you'll join us.

Cheryl Nechamen, President

December Message from the President

In the wake of the election, some people have resolved to "get involved" and might be wondering what they can do. The mission statement of the League of Women Voters caught my eye and I realized that it's a pretty good guide on how to "get involved".

First off, the League is a "non-partisan organization". We neither support nor oppose a political party or candidate. The League is respected for how we handle candidate forums, allowing the public to question candidates about their proposed policies in an environment that maintains a civil discourse.

Secondly, "we encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government". Democracy can be a messy complicated business. To understand the issues of the day, the League invites interesting speakers to discuss a variety of topics at programs that are open to the public.

To ensure that citizens can participate in government, we do extensive voter registration drives. And our Observer Corps keeps an eye on local government entities ranging from the Board of Education to the County Legislature to town Boards to make sure that all residents, citizen and non-citizen alike, are treated fairly under the law.

The last part of our mission statement states that "we work to increase the understanding of major public policy issues and influence public policy through education and advocacy". Through a grassroots approach, the League develops positions on issues at the state and national levels. We then lobby our elected officials to turn those positions into law.

In a nutshell, we believe in good government and work hard to achieve it.

Cheryl Nechamen

November Message from the President

As we are all too painfully aware, several of our legislative leaders have left office recently under an ethical cloud. The League, at the New York State Convention in 2015, decided that there was a need to update our position on Legislative Procedures. Specifically, our current position, "The legislature should continue to serve as a part-time body. Terms for legislators should be longer, and possibly staggered", does not address the issue of outside income and restricts our ability to advocate on this issue.

In the update, we'll examine whether there should be limits on outside income by legislators and if so, in what way: a total ban, a percentage of base salary or a specific dollar amount. We'll also discuss whether the cost of living in different areas of the state should be taken into account.

A state League study in 2015 rejected the idea of term limits for legislators but many local Leagues were interested in changing the length of legislators' terms. Consequently, the second question will address options for varying legislators' term lengths.

The third question asks whether there should be restrictions on how long a legislator serves in a leadership position, i.e. Assembly Speaker, Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate and Majority and Minority Leaders of the Assembly. In some ways, I think this is the most relevant question facing the state.

One could argue that much of the corruption we've seen recently in legislative leaders is due to the fact that they hold those leadership positions for an extended period of time. An individual or business wishing to buy influence knows who to approach and can feel secure that their interests will be protected for a long time.

There are interesting side questions: should legislators be allowed to rotate through different leadership posts, would it be a lifetime limit, etc. Some of these side questions came up during the study on term limits for legislators in 2015 and they're still relevant when talking about term limits for leadership posts.

We'll then ask the same questions about term limits for committee chairs. The final question is whether committee chairs and leadership positions should receive stipends, more commonly called lulus, which serve to inflate the salaries of many legislators.

We hope to see many of you at the consensus meeting on November 17th at noon at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady.

Cheryl Nechamen

October Message from the President

Voter fraud has been used as the justification for passing voter ID laws even though there is little or no evidence of voter fraud in modern day elections. The U.S. has certainly had a colorful history of voter fraud; everything from "voting the graveyard", to buying votes, voting multiple times and delivering blocks of votes by political machines. It's just not currently a problem.

Many people and organizations, including the League of Women Voters, were dismayed when the Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 in the Shelby County v. Holder decision of 2013.

The VRA had a number of safeguards in place to guarantee the right to vote regardless of the color of a person's skin, but it only applied to southern states that had Jim Crow laws in effect in 1965. Voter suppression, however, has spread like a virus to northern states that were exempt from the provisions of the VRA. Those in power pass laws to ensure that they remain in power. Laws requiring a photo ID are a popular way to suppress voter turnout and have been enacted in states that were exempt from the VRA provisions, including Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Interestingly, voter ID laws have a heavy class bias in the form of what kinds of ID are acceptable in order to vote, based on the supposition that low-income people tend to vote for one party and more affluent, often white, voters tend to vote for the other party. Acceptable ID often includes a drivers license or a passport, forms of ID more likely to be held by the middle class.

The forms of ID that are usually not acceptable for voting in these states tend to be the sort of ID that a low- income person might have such as a government benefits card, employee ID or a college ID. As Larry Spring, Superintendent of Schenectady City School District, has pointed out, "It's not illegal to discriminate against poor people" which is why efforts to fight voter suppression often focus on racial discrimination, which is illegal.

A new voting rights act is desperately needed that protects voting rights in every state, because the desire to hold onto power occurs in every state, north, south, east or west.

Cheryl Nechamen

Letter supporting the work of the SCCC

The following letter was sent by LWV President Cheryl Nechamen on behalf of the League and in support of the work of SCCC.

Jennifer Miller, Director of Community College Support SUNY System Administration Office of Community Colleges and the Educational Pipeline SUNY Plaza, 353 Broadway Albany, NY 12204 Dear Ms. Miller: The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County enthusiastically supports Schenectady County Community College's application to the SUNY Community College Community Schools (CCCS) grant. Schenectady County Community College (SCCC), in collaboration with an array of public, private and nonprofit partners, seeks to support high need students, and to build a network of accessible, on-campus, non-academic resources essential to successfully retaining and graduating these students.

The proposed SCCC Community Schools initiative, DESTINATION: SUCCESS, integrates college resources and community based services for students and their families through a centralized location on the College's campus. SCCC's DESTINATION: SUCCESS is aimed at increasing student retention rates of high-needs students by directly connecting them to multiple community resources available to support them through life's non-academic challenges. On-campus support will help students to navigate and address such issues as employment, food, housing, finances, childcare, primary care and mental health services, legal support, transportation, and other day-to-day needs than can negatively impact student success.

The League of Women Voters will partner with SCCC to develop and implement this important initiative. The League will hold voter registration drives on campus to increase the number of new voters. During the voter registration drives, pamphlets will be available that help students who may have felony convictions, disabilities or who are homeless which will enable them to exercise their right to vote.

The League distributes information on candidates and issues during election campaigns. In addition, the League has a long history of holding educational programs on local, state and national issues that will help students to become active and informed participants in our country.

The proposed DESTINATION: SUCCESS initiative is designed to improve SCCC's retention and graduation rates by significantly scaling up the College's ongoing efforts to provide support to its diverse and ever-changing student population. Providing on-campus access to crucial services will give SCCC students the support they need. This, in turn, will further strengthen student's families, our larger community, and our region. We enthusiastically support the College's application for SUNY Community Schools grant funding.


Cheryl Nechamen


League of Women Voters of Schenectady County