Getting on the Ballot in NY State Part 1: Background

Getting on the Ballot in New York State - Part I: Background

This post is an excerpt from our forthcoming The Ulster County Electoral Field Guide, developed by Ulster People Vice Chair Penny Coleman. We have done our best to ensure its accuracy as of March 2019.

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New York’s Election Laws (Background)

Election laws and procedures are different everywhere you go in the U.S. and at every level of federal, state and local government.  The way things are done in Ulster County might be similar to the way things are done in Columbia or Green, but don’t count on it. It’s always best to make sure you understand what the specific local rules are for the office you are seeking. Check with the BOE and never assume that what was true for last year’s election will be true for the next.

Image by Let NY Vote

Some background on New York State Election Politics:

If you think voting restrictions are only a southern shame, think again.  New Yorkers have endured some of the most restrictive voting rights laws, and consequently one of the worst records on voter turnout, in the country.  In 2016, we ranked 41st in voter turnout. That was an improvement over 2014, when we ranked 49th, with only 27% of eligible voters making it to the polls.

The 2018 Election

Image by Let NY Vote

What happened in New York in 2016 was a national disgrace. For years, the Assembly has passed needed reforms, but those efforts were consistently blocked by the Republican-led Senate. In 2018, many progressive candidates made election reforms a top priority in in their campaigns. As of 2019, with Democrats now in control of both legislative houses in Albany, and a Democratic governor who has often voiced support for reform, New York is joining other states that encourage their citizens to vote.

In fact, voting reforms were on the agenda the first full day of the 2019 legislative session.  Improvements to New York’s election laws passed in January include:

  • Closing the LLC loophole;
  • Consolidating state and federal primaries (4th Tuesday in June);
  • Opening polls to voters beginning 9 days (two weekends) before any election;
  • Allowing 16-17-year-olds to pre-register before they are of voting age;
  • “Portable registration,” requiring the BOE to automatically transfer voters’ registration when they move; and
  • Initiating changes in the NYS Constitution to allow same-day voter registration and “no excuse” absentee ballot voting (both of which must first be passed by two consecutive legislative sessions and a statewide referendum before going into effect.)    

What was not included in this initial package, but still needs to be done:

  • The ability to change party affiliation close to an election (the current deadline is October of the previous year);
  • Automatically enfranchising parolees (codifying Cuomo’s 2018 executive order, which is subject to revocation by future administrations);
  • The creation of more user-friendly ballots.            

New York State’s Recognized Parties

Going into the 2018 election, New York State had eight official parties: Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Green, Working Families, Independence, Women’s Equality, and Reform. Those eight parties had automatic access to the ballot because they received at least 50,000 votes on their party line in the 2014 gubernatorial election. The order in which they appeared on the ballot was determined by the number of votes cast for governor on that party line—from most to least. The Democratic line was listed first on the ballot because Cuomo (DEM) won the election and received the most votes on that line.

Note: The Independence Party should not be confused with independent voters, those who are not affiliated with any party (NOP). According to the New York Times, “New York’s Independence Party survives on confusion. Many who sign up with the party think they are registering as independent voters, unaffiliated with any party. Instead they are unwittingly contributing their names to a bizarre and fractious political group that endorses candidates from the two major parties…The Daily News in 2012 interviewed 200 New Yorkers who signed up as Independence Party voters and found that 169 of them thought they were not joining any party at all.” Recently in Ulster County, the Independence Party has tended to endorse more for REP/CON candidates, but neither side should assume their support.

The 2018 election, however, changed that. There will still be 8 official parties in the state, but the Women’s Equality Party and Stop Common Core (which renamed itself Reform in 2015) lost their automatic access.  The Libertarian Party and the Serve America Movement (SAM) each received more than 50,000 votes for governor on their respective lines and so will automatically be on the ballot until the next gubernatorial election in 2022.  The order in which the parties will be listed is DEM, REP, CON, WFP, GRE, LBT, IND, and SAM.   

Note: In New York State, there is a real advantage to being among the “recognized.” Those parties can nominate statewide candidates to run on their lines without petitioning. Candidates who want to run for statewide office on other than a recognized party line must first gather 15,000 valid petition signatures.  They can choose any name they want for their party.

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