New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Covid-19-Related Concerns Lead to Proposal Offering Option to Scrap in-Person Petitioning and Canvasing as Means for Candidates to Have Access to Ballots

Covid-19-Related Concerns Lead to Proposal Offering Option to Scrap in-Person Petitioning and Canvasing as Means for Candidates to Have Access to Ballots

Antiquated, Turn of the Century Petitioning System to be Replaced by Meeting the Minimum Threshold to Receive Public Funds through the City’s Campaign Finance System

 

New York, NY – Petitioning was cancelled abruptly this year, leaving many candidates without enough signatures to get on the ballot. With hundreds of candidates running for municipal office in 2021 during a pandemic, Government Operations Chair Fernando Cabrera and Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Ben Kallos have renewed calls to hear and pass Introduction 730 to put candidates on the ballot if they qualify for the city’s public matching campaign finance system in order to minimize risk to candidates and the public during the pandemic.

"For the past four years we've been pushing ballot access reform with a reasonable alternative to petitioning, which was canceled in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since then candidates have not been given any other means to get on the ballot.  It's now time to allow candidates to get ballot access by qualifying for the city's public matching finance system.  Any candidate who qualifies for public matching funds has already demonstrated their community's support and this is enough.  With key offices and numerous Council seats open in 2021, the time is now to end this antiquated system, get big money out of our elections and support entry of more people of color into elective politics.   This is the intent of Intro 0730.  As Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee, I’m proud to co-sponsor this bill and give my full support to this approach,” said Council Member Fernando Cabrera

“We need a safe way for candidates to get on the ballot during a pandemic. Ballot access reform is more than a century overdue. Democracy must mean giving voters more than one ‘choice’ on the ballot,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Candidates who qualify for public matching are required to demonstrate support from the community with in-district small dollar donations and that should be enough to get on the ballot knowing that they will have the funds they need to run a competitive election.”

“I am supportive of any efforts toward campaign finance reform that help take big money and special interests out of politics.  Our democracy should be accessible to everyone, and our current system is making it increasingly difficult for people from lower income communities, who may not have access to large donors, to participate. This proposal would help open up new opportunities,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a co-prime sponsor of the legislation.

"Petitioning is an outdated, archaic process that consistently makes it harder for immigrants and people of color to get on the ballot," said Paul Westrick, Manager of Democracy Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. "Introduction 730 gives voters more choices by allowing candidates to prove they have real support from the communities they seek to represent. No longer will a county party or high-paid election lawyer be able to kick grassroots candidates off the ballot for trivial reasons. This legislation makes our democracy stronger, more equitable, and more inclusive." 

“Introduction 730 is an important step toward bringing New York City’s elections into the 21st century,” said Tom Speaker, Policy Analyst for Reinvent Albany. "For decades, New York’s outdated election laws have kept viable candidates off the ballot. With this bill, candidates will be able to access the ballot more easily, and without risking the health of their constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic. New York has a long way to go before our elections are fully modernized, but Introduction 730 will take us in the right direction.”

Making the requirement for ballot access the same as for public funding should be immediately passed by the New York City Council. Our democracy must adapt to changing times. We already have a safe threshold for demonstrating community support, and challenging circumstances like the current pandemic make it more apparent how outdated and inaccessible our petition signature system is, “ said Morris Pearl, Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires.

On March 14, Governor Cuomo ended petitioning early due to the pandemic forcing candidates to collect hundreds of signatures in three days, with some candidates failing to do so, and even leaving two incumbents unable to qualify for the ballot. Since then, the Governor has issued no new Executive Orders for how candidates can get on the ballot for 2021 when the offices of Mayor, Comptroller, Borough President, and a super-majority of the Council will be open. Hundreds of candidates have already opened accounts and will have to get on the ballot.

The petitioning process for the June 2021 primary is set to begin in February 2021. Candidates will have to collect 450 to 3,750 signatures each from voters registered in their party over a period of 37 days. Collecting signatures must be done in person where signing would leave little to no social distance and create another vector for the spread of the coronavirus. A process detailed in video in the Daily News that once said “is no way to run a democracy.” Even if they collect the correct number of signatures, candidates must face being kicked off the ballot in what some describe “Ballot-Bumping, NYC’s Bloodsport” as political clubs, party bosses, and a cottage industry of lawyers hired by campaigns knock their opponents off the ballot, often on technicalities like failing to sign an acceptance or forgetting to date a signature page. New York is one of only 13 states where the only means to get on the ballot is by meeting a threshold of signatures because of archaic ballot access laws dating back to the 1800s.

 

The legislation introduced last session as Introduction 1129 of 2016 would allow candidates to obtain entry onto the ballot by meeting the minimum threshold to receive public funds through the City’s campaign finance system:

 

 

Petition
Signatures

Minimum No. Contributions

Minimum Threshold

City Council

450

75 In-District

 $5,000

Borough President

2,000

100 In-Borough

 $10,000 - $50,094

Comptroller / Public Advocate

3,750

500

 $125,000

Mayor

3,750

1,000

 $250,000

 

This alternative is a more meaningful measure of a candidate’s support in his or her district, eliminates frivolous lawsuits and ballot challenges, and opens up the process.
 
Under the current law, Mayor Bill de Blasio almost never made the ballot. When he mounted his campaign for Public Advocate in 2009, De Blasio was temporarily removed from the ballot due to a minor clerical error. Despite having demonstrated public support by collecting over 100,000 signatures and meeting the threshold for public matching, he was almost blocked from running for Public Advocate.

 

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