SAM, we hardly knew ‘ya

Changes are coming in the New York Election Law that will adjust the landscape politicos have known for many years.  The changes will make some people happy, and others angry – very, very angry.

The state law sets out the terms under which official political parties are created and continue to exist.  New York being New York, the process is byzantine, used by many, understood by few.

Under the Election Law that existed prior to this year, a political organization could become a standing political party by filing petitions for a gubernatorial candidate and then securing at least 50,000 votes for the party’s gubernatorial candidate; that threshold number of votes was set in the late 1930s, when the state population and the number of voters was much smaller.  The party designation was good for four years, allowing the party to nominate candidates for federal, state and local offices with a guaranteed spot on the election ballot.

Under that system we have had, in 2019 and 2020, eight parties in the state, which are rank-ordered based on their votes for governor:

  • Democratic Party (3,424,416 votes for governor in 2018)
  • Republican Party (1,926,485 votes)
  • Conservative Party (253,624 votes)
  • Working Families Party (114,478 votes)
  • Green Party (103,946 votes)
  • Libertarian Party (95,033 votes)
  • Independence Party (68,713)
  • SAM (Serve America Movement) Party (55,441 votes)

The top four parties on that list have been the major players in state politics for many years.  The Green Party has been around for several election cycles.  Other parties on the list come and go. You might remember the Liberal Party, a long standing party that died in 2002; or the Right-to-Life Party; or the Women’s Equality Party; or the Reform Party, which started out as the Stop Common Core Party.  (The Rent Is Too Damn High Party never made the threshold.)  Some minor “parties” have simply been concoctions of gubernatorial campaigns, aimed at creating an extra ballot line to add to a candidate’s total vote.

Candidates with multiple party lines have a long tradition in New York.  “Fusion voting” (a candidate running under his/her own party line as well as the lines of other parties) has been widely criticized over the years but nothing was done about it.  Then in 2019 the issue came to a head.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and others had issues with the way the Working Families Party operated even though Cuomo has run on the party’s line.  Last year Cuomo set up a commission to study a variety of things, including public campaign financing and fusion voting matters.  The work of that commission morphed in 2020 into legislation which will now effect how parties in New York are created and operate.

The new rules require that in order to be a recognized party with guaranteed ballot access for the next two years a party’s candidate for president or governor must secure at least two percent of the total vote cast in the state for president or governor, or at least 130,000 votes in that election, whichever is greater.  The party-recertification, in effect, will be repeated every two years.  Some of the state’s current minor parties have objected.

Under the new rules the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties will still be around after this year’s election.  The Working Families Party could make the cut, but it might be close.  The other four parties (Green, Libertarian, Independence and SAM) will probably be gone, at least for the next two years, although those parties could petition their way on to future election ballots.  The petitioning process, however, also has higher thresholds now.

These issues have been litigated but nothing has changed.  A federal judge recently ruled that the process is legal and may proceed.

In the 2016 presidential election in New York there were a total of 7,660,184 votes cast for president.  Two percent of that number is 153,204. Turnout this year is likely to be higher, so the two percent threshold will be the benchmark for which parties get party status in 2021 and 2022.

In 2020 there will be several presidential candidates on the November ballot in New York who are not named Biden or Trump.  For at least the next two years you can probably say goodbye to the Green, Libertarian, Independence and SAM parties.  The latter just came into being in 2018.  So SAM, we hardly knew ya.

And oh, BTW, coming soon to state elections – public financing.

Vote early, vote often

A recent post on this blog teased but stopped short of repeating an old political expression, “vote early, vote often.”  I simply wrote “vote early, vote…”  It was silly, I guess, but I didn’t want anyone suggesting that I would encourage someone to vote more than once.

Donald Trump does not read this blog (or much else, I hear) so I cannot claim credit for his most recent effort to distract attention from his pandemic mismanagement as he promotes the idea of voting twice.  He wants people to vote absentee (which many Republican candidates around the country desperately need to have happen) and then go to vote in person to see if their absentee ballot will be counted.  North Carolina elections administrators have noted that it is a felony in that state to vote twice or to encourage people to do so, but why should a law stand in the way of Donald Trump?

An election official in Albany, New York, by the way, has said that in New York it is actually legal to vote absentee and then go to an election booth to vote in person, which will require the Board of Elections to cancel out the absentee vote.  Really?

The better choice is to do what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has said he will do: “Personally, I will walk, I will jog, I will skip, I will crawl, I will slither, I will bike, I will hike, I will hitchhike, I will drive, I will ride, I will run, I will fly, I will roll, I will be rolled, I will be carried, I will trek, I will train, I will trot, I will truck, I will strut, I will float, I will boat, I will ramble, I will amble, I will march, I will bus, I will taxi, I will Uber, Lyft, scooter, skateboard or motorcycle — and I will wear a face mask, a face shield, gloves, goggles, a hazmat suit, a spacesuit or a wet suit — but I damn well will get to my neighborhood polling station to see that my vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is cast and counted.”