Sunday, July 25, 2010


For those of you that are involved in local politics you are very aware of how arcane and downright stupid the petitioning process is. To start off with, in order to appear on the ballot a candidate must collect signatures from 5% of the registered members of their party in the respective district up to a maximum number set by New York State Election Law.

So what's the big deal?

If you are asking that question then you have never collected signatures. From my experience, even in a "good" area (an election district with more than 100 republicans) the average collection rate is 3 per hour. That is the average! Some days you can go out for hours and come home with none.

The system is broken for many reasons. First, the weather can affect the number of signatures able to be collected and thus influence an election. I have no doubt that had the weather been better last February that Jonathan Judge and his team would have made the ballot in the Special Election for the 44th Council District.

Even if you achieve the minimum required you must be able to survive a "challenge" or an "objection" to your signatures. This is where lawyers get involved and tons of time and money get wasted. Getting someone kicked off the ballot is par for the course in New York politics. It has become an accepted tactical move and is usually not seen as circumventing the democratic process. I guess it all depends on which candidate's side you're on.

A quick note on the minimum number of signatures needed. In an Assembly District, no matter how many registered voters reside there, the maximum minimum number of signatures required is 500. So in a district where there are 10,000 registered republicans in an active status, the republican candidate must secure 500 signatures (5%). In the same district there could be 40,000 registered democrats. However, the democratic candidate need only to collect the same 500 signatures and not 5% which would be 2000 signatures.

Their (the democrats) pool is much bigger and yet they only have to collect the same number as we (the republicans) do. Fair? No.

Beside the weather, challenges, and minimum/maximum signature thresholds, there is the reality that it is the year 2010 and most people do not have people knocking on their doors very often. When was the last time a stranger knocked on your door or rang your bell and wasn't a food delivery guy or Jehovah's Witness?

Not only must we knock on the door but in this age of identity theft we have to convince people to sign their name on a pink sheet of paper and provide us with their address. Who is "us"? "Us" are the people (mostly senior citizens) that do the bulk of petitioning around the state for both parties. These party activists brave 100 degree temperatures in the summer and subzero temperatures in Special Elections like the one in February I mentioned earlier. This is insane.

Incumbents love the process. They sometimes say we need to reform the system but no one has or will ever get rid of this process once in office since it benefits them so much. An incumbent (of either party) usually has an army of supporters (a machine) and loyal District Leaders (I am one) that do all of this for them. They are insulated from the sweat and tears of petitioning ( I have not cried but have seen many people break into tears).

What needs to be done? I don't have the answer but I know that the current system is broken and undemocratic. Ballot access should not be affected by the weather and no party should have an advantage written into law.

In future posts and shows I want to discuss term limits for all and the unfairness of campaign finance when it comes to matching funds in New York City races.

Feel free to comment or vent.


  1. This is so true, and I agree 100% with your article.

    Let's however change the process as a whole of selecting candidates as a whole.

    Let the Counties choose there designated candidate by having a 2/3 vote from all county committee members, and if the candidate gets fewer than that margin, and another candidate put's there name in than there should be a primary.

    Simple, easy, and done.

  2. Ballot access is a major concern, IMO.

    Having gone through it, it's all stress. Like Russell wrote, Republicans have it tougher because you have to target voters, while all a Dem has to go is go on a street corner and collect from everyone, because 7 out of 10, you'll be getting a Dem.

    One solution is to have non-partisan petitioning, but party purists wouldn't go for that. (by the way, Bloomberg is pushing non-partisan elections - maybe a topic in coming weeks?) City Charter Revision is considering lowering the # of sigs needed, but that'll play into Dems' hands.

    I think the only way to be fair is to go by a minimum percentage of registered members in a given district.

  3. I agree with Non-Partisan Elections, It would help us big time at the City level especially here in Brooklyn especially outside of SW Brooklyn.

    I do think the signature process either should be lowered, or allow the Counties to choose the candidates.

  4. Qualifying for a primary election is really running for a party position not a government position, and that should be based on the number of party members in your district but it should determined by party rules not state law.

    When you are trying to qualify for the general election then you are running for a government position and all candidates should be treated equally under the law, regardless of party. There are too many laws that make it harder for third party candidates and independent candidates to qualify for the general election ballot. All candidates of all (or no) parties should have to go through the exact same process to qualify for the general election.

    No party should have "automatic access" to the ballot, there should be a fixed number of signatures or a fixed percentage of the voters in a district (5% seems fair to me) that are needed for any/all candidates to get on the November ballot. How parties want to decide who to endorse and who to support should be their own business, but the state has to treat all candidates of all parties equally when it comes to the general election.

    Maybe a solution to the problem of "challenging petitions" should be that we use some common sense. When you show up at your polling station on election day, someone asks you to sign before you vote. They don't have lawyers standing there making sure every I is doted and every T is crossed, if the signature looks the same they let you vote, and if it doesn't they don't. Why does it have to be more complicated than that when it comes to signatures on a petition?

    Btw, how about following Utah’s lead? Utah court says e-signatures acceptable for ballot petitions

  5. I don't know if e-signatures is the way to go though?

    I think the petition process should be changed from the way we have it now.

  6. The only issue I see with having everyone have to meet a true 5% threshold is that it will eliminate all 3rd party candidates as well as most republicans from the ballot.

    For instance, my district (AD 47) has 48,000 active voters (includes all parties and blanks). 5% of that total would be 2,400! That means that to appear on the ballot you would have to get an army of people collecting day and night to meet the minimum threshold of 2,400 signatures. A challenge would easily boot most contenders off the ballot.

    I think for at least the Assembly a 400 signature minimum should be established as well as a fee of some sort. The fee should be in the neighborhood of $250 and can be raised through fundraising or from the candidate. That would deter people from just placing their name on the ballot.

  7. I think the petition process should be eliminated as a whole.

    If County Parties selected there candidates this process could be done in a timely, ample matter.

    County Parties should also set the bar on the number of signatures candidates need to get on the ballot depending on the number of registered voters in a council, assembly, senate and congressional district.

    This new process would give candidates time to work on there platform, and more directly talk to the voters than the current system allows.

  8. Osher: Thanks for finding the site!

    I think we all agree that the goal is to increase access to the ballot. Unfortunately, I disagree on method. State law has to apply in order to establish an even playing field. We don't want one party creating barriers to the ballot (coughDEMOCRATICMACHINEcough).

    It's a matter of bringing common sense to the process. First of all, get rid of the idea of dismissing all signatures for an uncorrected error in form. That's ridiculous. Second, challenges should succeed only upon evidence of fraud (collecting sigs early, fraudulent sigs, etc.) or failure to reach a threshold amount. That's it. And if someone is challenging based on fraud, they should articulate it with particularity and meet a burden of proof - just like alleging fraud in any other proceeding.

    Unfortunately, these changes can only come legislatively - the inmates run the asylum.

    (As a side note, everyone "follow" the blog, by clicking in that right column box! I'd love to see that number grow!)

  9. Can't we do better though than a system where you have to collect a certain number of signatures in order to get on to the ballot?

    What about the fact there are so many registered voters who are not taken out of the rolls of the Board of Elections.

    There are still thousands of registered voters who are dead and never were taken off the board of election rolls.

    Isn't that where the fraud lies in the Board of Elections itself?

  10. Gene, it's great to talk to you.

    I agree that you need the state to make sure that there is an equal playing field when it comes to candidates trying to get on to the November ballot, but how individual parties (like any political group) choose to endorse candidates or what qualifications are necessary to be considered for an endorsement should be up to the members of the party (or political group). Obviously, for my party, the Republican Party, I would advocate for candidates to chosen by a primary where all party members can vote, and that to qualify for the primary candidates should need a certain number of signatures from party members in their district, but if a different party wants to do it another way that is up to them.

    If the Democratic Party, or any party, starts using unfair methods to shut people out, then their members can either change the rules or leave the party. You don't need the state to get involved. I think what you see going on with the Independence Party, and how it chooses to endorse, and what people like your friend Frank Morano in Staten Island and Jeff Graham in upstate are doing is a good example that you don't need the state setting standards for party endorsements, party members can figure it out by themselves.

  11. The problem is that the state does decide how you make the ballot. The parties have no say. If you are a registered republican and chose to collect signatures then you will appear on the ballot if you meet the minimums created by state law. This is whether the party at large wanted you on the ballot or not. And although primaries are possible all candidates must still meet signature requirements that in some cases are almost impossible to achieve.