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Judge to Rule on Casino Amendment Challenge

Friday, October 11, 2013

Voters in Crown Heights casting ballots in the 2013 primary election. Voters in Crown Heights casting ballots in the 2013 primary election. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

A State Supreme court judge heard arguments Friday on whether the Board of Elections should change the wording of a casino gambling amendment that critics say improperly advocates for the measure’s passage.

Attorney Eric Snyder is arguing that the language of the ballot amendment is too rosy. He objects to wording that says the addition of 7 new gambling casinos will be for the purpose of “promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes”.  He maintains the language should be neutral instead, and the commissioners have no right to allow wording that advocates for the amendment’s passage.

“That’s not their role,” said Snyder. “Their role is to enforce election laws, and not to create advocating language."

But the lawyer for the New York State Board of Elections told Supreme Court Judge Richard Platkin that the motion to throw out the casino ballot amendment language comes too late, and therefore should not be argued at all. Attorney Paul Collins says there’s a 14 day statute of limitations in these cases.

The board voted on the language change July 29th, and sent it to local boards of elections in early August. Yet Collins says Snyder, a private practice bankruptcy attorney who personally opposes gambling, waited until late September to file a motion.

“Clearly, the time frame has not been observed,” Collins said. “This proceeding is untimely.”

Snyder counters that if the Board of Elections is accusing him of delays, then they should “look in the mirror”. He says he couldn’t have followed the 14 day limit. He says no one attending the July 29th Board of Elections meeting or watching in on a webcast would know that the wording had been so blatantly altered, because commissioners did  not read aloud the changes. The Board of Elections did not post the new language for the amendment on it’s website until August 23, over three weeks later.

“It’s bitterly ironic that I would be accused of delaying the proceeding,” Snyder said afterward. “When they took 25 days to hit that button.”

Board of Elections spokesman Tom Connolly says the only reason it took more than three weeks to post the new ballot language on the website was because an IT person was out sick during that time.

“The delay was not intentional,” Connolly said.

Board Attorney Collins told the judge that the elections commissioners have “nothing to hide."

Snyder did not have a good answer for why he waited for over a month after the amendment wording finally appeared on the Board of Elections website to file his lawsuit. He apologized to the judge for any “mistakes” he might have made.

The Board of Election Commissioners have said they changed the original language sent to them by the State Attorney General, which was more neutral, after discussions with staff from the governor’s office and the legislature. Governor Cuomo and many state legislators say they want the amendment to pass.

Judge Platkin asked both attorneys repeatedly whether it’s too late now to make changes to the amendment. Voting day is November 5th, and military ballots and some absentee ballots have already gone out. Connolly, with the Board of Elections, says it would be difficult to make the changes now.

Judge Platkin says he’ll rule on whether the case has merit to go forward as soon as he possibly can, by October 15 or 16th at the latest.

Snyder was asked if he was optimistic about the out come.

“I’m hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” he said.

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