False election info in message that's gone viral

False Election Claims

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A message that's being shared on Facebook includes a lot of false information about the upcoming vote on a potential Constitutional Convention here in New York State.

A viewer named Tammy reached out to 2 On Your Side asking that we VERIFY the information in the message.

First, the message claims the question about a Constitutional Convention will appear on the back of the ballot. Jeremy Zellner, the Democratic commissioner for the Erie County Board of Elections, said that's likely, but the ballot is not finalized yet, because we first have a primary election this September.

If the Constitutional Convention question appears on the back of the ballot, Zellner said it will be clearly marked "Double-sided ballot, please vote both sides."

At the state level, New York State Board of Elections spokesperson John Conklin said propositions being on the back of the ballot "is normal procedure and it has been that way since we started using the paper ballot scanners back in 2010."

There's a chance the Constitutional Convention question may be moved to the front of the ballot. Evan Davis, an attorney and former aide to the late Governor Mario Cuomo, filed a lawsuit to force such a move. A judge in Albany will hear arguments in that case this Thursday.

The viral message also claims if a voter leaves the Constitutional Convention question blank, it will be automatically counted as a 'yes' vote. That's false, according to multiple sources.

Conklin said, "I have seen this claim made elsewhere and received multiple questions on it. It is completely untrue."

He added that a ballot in which a voter skips the question will simply be counted as a "blank" vote.

Zellner added that state Election Law Article 9 Section 116 lays out how to tally votes, including those "blank and void votes".

"It winds up being counted in the 'Blank, Void & Scattering' section of the canvass," he explained.

The final claim in the circulating Facebook message is that the Constitutional Convention, should it pass, would cost "over $100 million".

It's not easy to calculate or estimate the cost; however, the past is a good guide.

Chris Bopst, a Buffalo businessman, attorney and author, examined spending records from the State Comptroller's Office regarding the 1967 convention.  He found the state spent $7,053,834 over four years. "In 2017 dollars this is $51,448,160," according to an opinion article written by Bopst's colleague Gerald Benjamin.

That's about half the amount in the Facebook email; however, it's possible the costs could be more this time around, because there are many unknown factors, such as salaries for delegates and their staff.

Some groups, like New Yorkers Against Corruption, have greatly exaggerated the cost in an effort to encourage people to vote against the proposal.

"(The convention) is estimated to cost taxpayers a staggering $300 million," the group's website says, without explanation.

Conklin said he believes even the $100 million figure is high.

"It will certainly cost money that will be paid by the taxpayer," Conklin said, adding that delegates will be paid a salary, hire staff and have expenses.

If voters approve having a Constitutional Convention this November, the legislature would pass legislation to determine how to elect delegates. Those delegates would then be elected in November 2018. The convention would then begin in April 2019. Any amendments adopted by that convention would go back before voters in a statewide referendum.

© 2017 WGRZ-TV


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