It’s Time for Initiative and Referendum in New York

Unite NY launched with a simple, yet powerful premise: people over party.

Our reasoning for this was simple. When we empower voters and not party bosses, we can create a more representative and functional government. Unfortunately, New York’s government is an example of everything that’s wrong with politics. Party bosses, special interests, and lobbyists are the ones in control—leaving New Yorkers out in the cold.

We now have a disenchanted, disengaged, and disenfranchised electorate with very little say in the laws passed or the people representing them. That’s why Unite NY is proud to embrace initiative and referendum as one of the most important solutions needed to turn this state around.

Initiative and referendum—the most direct form of democracy our system of government offers—is already widely used at the local level in New York State and across the nation. According to Ballotpedia, 26 states nationally provide an initiative and/or referendum process for voters to directly propose or approve state legislation through the voting booth. Sadly, New York is not one of these states.

This is a process that would enable New York voters to propose new bills or constitutional amendments. If enough support is gathered through the initiative process, a referendum follows, which puts that proposal on the ballot for voters to directly decide whether to adopt or not.

Can this happen? Yes, but bringing initiative and referendum to New York will require a constitutional amendment. For that to happen, the state legislation authorizing it would need to be passed by two separately elected legislatures, then ratified by voters as a ballot question. The state legislature may not wish to cede power to the people, so the voters must make it clear that they demand a direct say in the laws that govern them.

More so, this isn’t a foreign concept in New York State. In fact, a whole litany of issues can be subject to a referendum on local matters in New York, but not at the state level. Why? Are Albany’s politicians much more intelligent, effective, and ethical than our local officials? A quick look at recent history would not appear to make that case.

Enough is enough.  It’s time to give voters the power that career politicians refuse to exercise for the public good. Initiative and referendum would put power in the hands of the people and make our state legislature more accountable, something that is sorely needed. If politicians will not address such glaring needs as cracking down on rampant corruption, loosening restrictive ballot access laws, and providing pathways to allow more voters to participate in the electoral process, let’s put those issues before the voters and let them decide.

We know voters support a wide array of reforms that haven’t seen the light of day in Albany, so enough is enough. New Yorkers deserve more choices and more voices, and initiative and referendum is the embodiment of that philosophy. It’s time to give the people back their voice—so we can all have the government we deserve.

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