An Albany court on Thursday dismissed a suit against the state Board of Elections seeking to place on the front of the ballot this year’s referendum on whether New York should hold a constitution convention.
In the decision, written by Supreme Court Justice Richard McNally, the court found that the state constitution only mandates the question of whether a convention should be submitted to the electorate, but does not dictate where on the ballot it should appear.
“To grant the relief sought by petitioner would require this Court to read into Article 19 legal requirements that simply do not exist,” McNally wrote in Davis v. Board of Elections, 05249/17. “The Court finds the decision of where the convention question should appear on the ballot is a decision relegated to the discretion of the NYSBOE.”
Evan Davis, senior counsel at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and founder of the Committee for a Constitutional Convention, filed the lawsuit earlier this month. He argued 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.”
On Nov. 7, voters in New York will decide 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. In November 2019, the electorate would get a chance to vote on each proposed amendment.
Davis, who served as counsel to the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, said he plans to appeal the court’s decision to the New York Court of Appeals.
“I am disappointed that the court has declined to order that the convention question be on the front of the ballot. The question is mandated by the State Constitution, arises once every 20 years, and consists of only 13 words,” Davis said in a statement. “When placed on the back of the ballot, too many voters will not see it and will lose their constitutional right to correct state government.”
A constitutional convention has been favored by the New York State Bar Association, but labor unions 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.