Board of Elections Sued Regarding Casino Ballot Language
by Paul Wolf - posted 1:15 am, October 3, 2013
Brooklyn attorney Eric Snyder has filed an interesting lawsuit regarding the language used for the ballot proposition seeking voter permission to add up to seven new casinos in New York State. The lawsuit argues that the ballot language used by the New York State Board of Elections describing the casino expansion as “promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local government to lower property taxes”, improperly advocates for passage of the item. In reviewing the language I think Snyder makes a valid point.
Under the New York State Constitution the government is prohibited from advocating for a ballot position with public funds. The Board of Elections is supposed to remain neutral and impartial, when drafting ballot language. The New York State Constitution prohibits commercial gambling. The State Legislature passed legislation subject to voter approval authorizing casino gambling that is regulated by the state.
The bill passed by the state legislature did not include any information on job creation, impact on school aid or property taxes. The language drafted by the Board of Elections, which will appear on the ballot for voters to decide is:
The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenue generated. Should the amendment be approved?
The New York State Attorney General is required to advise the state Board of Elections on all constitutional amendments requiring a statewide vote. In their submission to the Board of Elections, the State Attorney General did not make any mention of promoting job growth, school aid or lowering property taxes. So where did this language come from? According to one of the Election Board commissioners, the language was added after “extensive discussions and careful vetting”. No indication was provided as to with whom these discussions and vetting took place. A good guess in my opinion would be with Governor Cuomo and/or members of his staff.
A recent Siena College poll asked New York voters the following question:
“Do you support or oppose passing amendment to the state constitution to allow non-Indian, Las Vegas style casinos to be built in New York?” 46% of the poll respondents were in favor of expanding casino gambling and 46% were opposed. When the Board of Election language was added to the poll question, 55% stated they were in favor of the gambling amendment and 42% were opposed.
Governor Cuomo like many high ranking politicians is obsessed with his favorability rating and utilizes polling before making any major moves. More than likely Cuomo’s own polling efforts caused the Board of Elections to add jobs, schools and taxes to the ballot question. Regardless of your personal opinion about gambling, the question put before the voters should be worded in as neutral a way as possible. Seeking to slant or persuade voters towards a particular outcome is wrong.
The lawsuit seeks a court ruling that the Board of Elections exceeded their authority in how the ballot item is worded. What do you think?