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Thu Jan 3, 2019, 04:31 PM

How New York Suppresses the Vote

New York Law Journal:

The midterm election cycle revealed in gory detail the various problems states have administering elections. Georgia was in the news for a number of controversies: requiring an “exact match” between the names on the registration lists and other state databases, database insecurities, and charges of voter suppression.

Here in New York, we like to think we do better. But we still do not allow early voting (as 37 states do), no-excuse absentee ballots (allowed in 26 states and Washington D.C.), automatic registration (as permitted by 15 states and DC) or an easy path to change enrollment from one political party to another (our closed primary system requires an 11-month waiting period to vote in most party primaries). The Governor and the legislature’s majority party have pledged to reform these and related laws.

While Albany is at it, however, there is an underside to our election laws that does not receive the attention it deserves—our restrictive ballot access laws that often deprive voters an opportunity to have a choice when they vote. To demonstrate how this works, we survey a variety of rulings from 2018 to demonstrate how hyper-technical provisions litter the law, and prevent otherwise eligible candidates from being on the ballot—thus narrowing, and often eliminating, choices for the voters.

Let’s start with a recent Court of Appeals decision, which very rarely grants leave to appeal in an election case but heard this one as of right pursuant to CPLR §5601(a). It concerned a challenge to a designating petition for Democratic Party Female State Committee Member from Greenwich Village. This unpaid position is usually a stepping stone to local office, and, even if not, is an important member of the state party’s policy and nominating process. The alleged defect on the petition, submitted by one Penny Mintz, was that it did not explicitly state that the position sought was Female Committee Member. (Never mind that Penny is obviously a woman’s name.) The Court of Appeals ruled that this “error” was a fatal defect as a matter of law, and thus the candidate was disqualified from appearing on the ballot. Mintz v. Board of Elections, 32 N.Y.3d 1054 (2018). As a result, voters were left with only one other candidate,
and thus no choice.

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