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The founder of a group that supports this year’s referendum on whether the state should hold a constitutional convention filed a lawsuit against the state’s Board of Elections Thursday in an effort to put the convention question on the front of the ballot.

Evan Davis

Evan Davis, senior counsel at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and the founder of the Committee for a Constitutional Convention, filed a lawsuit in Albany County Supreme Court arguing that the convention question on the back of the ballot “suggests that the constitutionally mandated convention question is of lesser importance than the local races that will appear on the front of the ballot.”

“The requirement that electors decide the Convention Question necessarily obligates the Election Board to submit that question in a manner that effectively presents it to the voting for public decision. Absent such an effective submission, the electors are stripped of their right to decide the Convention Question, and the Election Board has failed to fulfill its constitutionally-mandated duty,” Davis, former counsel to the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, argued in the lawsuit.

On Nov. 7, voters in New York will decide on the referendum question, “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” The referendum is presented to voters once every 20 years under the state constitution. In 1997, voters rejected the ballot measure. If the referendum is approved, New Yorkers would elect delegates in 2018 to the convention, which would meet in 2019. At the convention, delegates would get to propose amendments to the state constitution for voter ratification. Then in November 2019, the electorate would get a chance to vote on each proposed amendment.

A constitutional convention has been favored by the New York State Bar Association (NYLJ, June 17), but labor unions—who are closely aligned to Democrats who overwhelmingly control the state Assembly—and environmental groups oppose holding the convention, arguing that it has the potential to strip away labor rights and conservation protections that are currently in place.

Davis’ lawsuit is scheduled to be heard Thursday morning before Acting Justice Denise Hartman. A spokesman for the state Board of Elections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.