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Bernie Sanders, New York ballot access, and seriousness

As matters stand now, Sanders can't get on the Democratic ballot unless he registers as a Democrat or gets the permission of the Democrat Party, because of a law named Wilson-Pakula. Capital New York:

ALBANY—Senator Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, will face a significant legal barrier if he attempts to run in next year's New York primary while remaining unaffiliated with a party.

A section of state election law commonly known as Wilson-Pakula prohibits candidates from appearing on the ballot in a party’s primary unless they are either enrolled members or receive the approval of the party’s committee.

Sanders, of Vermont, is an independent and so would need the approval of the state’s Democrats to get his name on the ballot. But the state's two major parties have historically granted Wilson-Pakulas only in rare circumstances. Several longtime political observers contacted by Capital could not recall a single instance in which either party has granted one to a candidate in a statewide race. Clinton’s deep political connections to New York make the likelihood of them doing so even less.

“Hadn’t thought about it, but my initial answer would be no,” Assemblyman Keith Wright said when asked if he thought Sanders should be allowed on the ballot for New York’s Democratic primary.

A quick Google search shows no sign of action by the Sanders campaign on this matter. And here's a twist from the Gothamist:

Another wrinkle for all of the New York Sanders groupies out there: While there are no party affiliation requirements in presidential elections, primaries in several states, New York included, require voting along party lines. As one Redditer put it yesterday, "I wonder if all the Bernie fans realize they have to register as democrats to vote for him?"

(New registrations could be a lesser-evil phenomenon, or, ultimately, a new-bloodsplits-the-party phenomenon.) Other campaigns have foundered on New York's complex system of maintaining the current players in the two-party oligopoly firmly in control of the levers of power, including voting machine levers, and so it would be good if the Sanders campaign didn't screw this up. (At this point, let me point out that through the stellar efforts of Howie Hawkins, the Green Party has solved its ballot access problems.)

Yesterday, I wrote, assuming Sanders wants to run as a Democrat:

I would imagine [which at this point is all I can do, sans evidence] that the Sanders staff are working on this, since both Teachout and Hawkins show that the base is looking for alternatives to Democratic loyalists in New York. So I’ll be waiting for all the “progressive” columnists who wrote that a challenge to Clinton would be good for her campaign to pipe up and support a Sanders challenge in New York, and I’ll be waiting for Clinton to explain to the New York Democratic Party Committee why the same principles that compel to support voter access for all compel her, and them, to support ballot access for a legitimate competitor for a place on the ticket.

And I'll be waiting a long time, eh?

If Sanders can't run as a Democrat in New York, he could run as an Independent. But there are onerous ballout access requirements for independent candidates. The New York Board of Elections:

An independent candidate for president is someone who is running on a line other than an official party line. Petitions for independent candidates must include the names of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, as well as the names of person(s) running for the electoral college. Each state is permitted to have one elector for each congressional district, plus two at-large electors.

Independent petitions for president must contain 15,000 signatures. At least 100 signatures must come from each of one-half of the congressional districts in the state. Election Law §6-142(1) (pdf 3,303KB). Each candidate named in an independent petition for president is required to file an acknowledged acceptance of the nomination no later than the third day after the last day to file the petition. Election Law §6-146(1) (pdf 3,303KB).

If there are 10 or more pages in a petition, there must be a cover sheet. A multi-volume petition requires a cover sheet for each volume. Cover sheets must contain the following information:

  • Name, address, and mailing address if different, of candidates
  • Office sought
  • Name and emblem of the independent body making the nomination
  • A statement that the petition contains a number of signatures equal to or in excess of the number required by statute.
  • The volume number of that volume
  • The total number of volumes in the petition

Additional information on cover sheets is contained in Part 6215 of the rules and regulations (pdf 3,303KB) of the State Board of Elections.

This could be done by an army of volunteers, of course, but the process is not easy and not designed to be easy. So it would be nice to see the Sanders campaign revving up an effort; "each of one-half of the congressional districts in the state" means outside of Brooklyn, mkay?

[Checks calendar] 506 days is not long for a Presidential petition drive. Really. Interesting, the date of the New York primary has not been set (Wikipedia, sigh), leaving lots of scope for machinations by Democratic regulars. Confusingly, the New York Board of Elections site says "Each candidate named in an independent petition for president is required to file an acknowledged acceptance of the nomination no later than the third day after the last day to file the petition," without actually giving the day. I'll leave it a pro to figure out the date and then work backward from it to figure out when a petition drive should begin. (The New York State Election Board has no 2016 calendar as of this writing.)

And then there are signature challenges. The Gothamist:

New York is one of a handful of states that still requires all candidates -- incumbents and challengers -- to file petitions with voter signatures to secure a place on the ballot. Those petitions have to comply with a complicated list of requirements for the signatures to be considered valid.

This has turned the whole petition process into a political blood sport. Candidates with experienced election lawyers can bump many of their rivals off the ballot by challenging the validity of their opponents' petition signatures, disqualifying the signatures from the candidates' total signature count. These errors can include unclear handwriting, or the absence of a zip code or borough.

In other words, to run as an Independent, besides spinning up a serious organization, the Sanders campaign needs to be lining up some well-connected lawyers right now. Good will and cheering crowds won't make it. "Let's put on a show!" won't make it. Democratic apparatchiks give zero fucks, and the Sanders campaign had better figure out how to beat them at their own game, if it doesn't want to flare out after the small-state primaries. Or if it's serious.

* * *

So, whether Sanders wants to run as a Democrat or an independent, there are steps his campaign needs to be taking. Are they being taken? And if he doesn't get on the New York ballot at all, is he really serious?

Here's a petition to sign.

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jo6pac's picture
Submitted by jo6pac on

Pass the popcorn the show is about to begin.

Submitted by lambert on

... for some definition of good. I've got to say that after what the WFP did with Cuomo (leading to the Teachout run) I'd far prefer he runs as a Democratic, just straight up "This is what I have to do."