This article is adapted from the author’s keynote address delivered at a symposium on the New York State Constitution held at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University on March 24, 2017.


On November 7, 2017, New Yorkers will go to their polling places and receive ballots containing a thirteen-word referendum question: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” That question appears on the ballot because the New York State Constitution commands that at least once every twenty years voters are asked whether or not to call a constitutional convention. The mandatory referendum reflects Thomas Jefferson’s belief that every generation the people should be given a chance to revise their basic law.