The state Board of Elections on Friday blamed logistics and an employee who was out sick for failing to post the much-criticized rewording of New York’s casino referendum online until after the deadline to challenge it.
In court Friday, the state sought to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the unusual wording of the referendum by saying it was filed too late. The deadline was Aug. 19. The Board of Elections posted the language Aug. 23, four weeks after the board said it finalized the wording.
“I have no comment on that,” said Brooklyn lawyer Eric Snyder, who brought the suit. “I think it speaks for itself.”
The lawsuit challenges the referendum Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to authorize his plan for seven casinos. The Nov. 5 referendum was rewritten by the Cuomo administration and legislative leaders and approved by the Board of Elections. The board added unusually rosy language that promises jobs, lower taxes and more school aid, all of which is disputed. None of the drawbacks, such as crime and addiction were mentioned.
State law prohibits using public funds to sway voters on a referendum.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin could rule to dismiss or advance the case next week.
A recent Siena College poll found the one-sided version moved voters to slightly favor the referendum. New Yorkers have long been split on the issue.
The New York Times offered the latest critical editorial Friday on the issue, urging Platkin to rule in Snyder’s favor because the referendum is “advocacy language, pure and simple” and because the state posted the wording publicly after the deadline to challenge it.
Snyder argued the Board of Elections overstepped its authority to advocate for the referendum in what is supposed to be a just-the-facts account so voters can decide. The referendum was rewritten from neutral wording provided by the state attorney general’s office.
Board attorney Paul Collins argued the change was made in a public meeting July 29 and the referendum wording was signed during a Webcast of it, which is posted on the website. He said Snyder’s case should be dismissed because he failed to file it before the Aug. 19 deadline.
Snyder argued that of the July meeting, the Webcast and the meeting’s official minutes, none described the new wording. He also notes that the board authorized commissioners to make any additional changes in private telephone calls, which would have violated the state open meetings law. Snyder said the rosy view of casinos in the referendum wasn’t clear until it was posted on the board website days after the deadline for New Yorkers to challenge it, and even then few noticed.
Snyder said he first learned of the wording in newspaper articles, which ran Sept. 12.
Page 2 of 2 - “The state board isn’t hiding anything,” Collins told the judge. “There isn’t anything to hide.”
He said the referendum was emailed Aug. 5 to counties’ boards of election and some people had requested it under the state Freedom of Information Law.
“The delay was not intentional,” said board spokesman Tom Connolly after the court appearance. “This was a logistic issue.” He said an illness of a worker in the information technology department contributed to the delay of putting the public referendum online.
“It’s bitterly ironic I am accused of unreasonable delay when it took them 25 days to hit that button,” Snyder said.