By Deyva Arthur, Green Party of New York State
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to assassinate the Green Party, and though he has made it nearly impossible for the party to have ballot status, the state party is doing what it can to stay alive.
In 2019 Cuomo appointed a commission to address campaign finance reform which also put into law significantly higher ballot access thresholds. It raised the requirements to maintain ballot access from 50,000 votes for governor to needing 130,000 votes or two percent votes cast for both governor or presidential elections. This not only increased the threshold by over two and half times but also shortened the time frame for maintaining ballot status to every two years instead of four.
The commission law also tripled the petition signatures required to put an independent candidate for statewide office to 45,000 to be collected within a six-week window. Peter LaVenia, state Green Party co-chair said in a good year Greens could collect 30,000 signatures maximum. They also moved the petitioning schedule from the summer to early spring when it’s harder to get signatures. Board of Elections also denied Green Party requests to get digital signatures to reduce the risk of Coronavirus exposure.
Unlike most states, New York does not permit third parties to qualify for a ballot line by petition, by reaching a vote threshold for any statewide office, and/or by having a set number of people enrolled in the party.
Howie Hawkins, presidential candidate in 2020 and longtime NY Green said when the restrictions first went into place, “The U.S. has the most restrictive ballot access requirements of any electoral democracy in the world and now Cuomo wants to make them even more restrictive…It is anti-democratic for the Democrats and Republicans to keep their competition off the ballot, especially when combined independent and third-party enrollment is 27 percent of the active New York electorate.”
The commission’s ballot access law was overturned by a State Supreme Court justice in 2020 stating the legislature could not delegate law-making to an appointed commission. All the members on the commission were appointed by Cuomo himself, with Jay Jacobs, Democratic Party chair, leading the commission.
Despite the court striking down the Draconian ballot access restrictions, Cuomo was able to reinstate them by putting them in the 2021 state budget. Legislators had to approve them in order to pass the budget. The Green Party of New York State has filed a court case along with the Libertarian Party to again overturn the ballot threshold law, but LaVenia said he is not certain of the case’s success. If the Green Party loses the court case, they will keep going and bring it to the state legislature to appeal. LaVenia said, “We are going to have to get the legislature to pass a bill and there is not a lot of support there.”
LaVenia said this was a direct attack on smaller political parties especially the Green Party. Cuomo outright said in a press conference, he knew third parties such as the Working Families Party, that consistently back him, would make the threshold and that these restrictions were designed to wipe out parties running their own candidates.
“Cuomo may dislike the Working Families Party for pestering him for more progressive policies…But they always back him for governor. It is the Green Party that has always run a candidate against him in the general election,” said party co-chair Gloria Mattera.
Under the new restrictions, the Green Party in New York lost ballot status last year when Hawkins did not garner the 130,000 voter threshold running for president. The party had held the ballot line since 2010. Losing ballot status means not only are there high signature thresholds for national and state candidates, but it also makes it significantly more difficult for local campaigns.
“We need a spotlight shown on what the Democrats and Republicans have done to restrict and limit voter choice and their refusal to consider any type of voting reform that would allow the Greens, Libertarians, or others to consistently win seats in legislatures and better represent the outcome of elections and voting,” LaVenia said.
This doesn’t mean the Green Party in New York is now defunct. Greens have only just upped their game. In addition to battling ballot restrictions in court, the party is doubling its effort to get more Green candidates at the local level and help them get the needed signatures. Also, party members continue to be at the forefront of important social and environmental issues which also helps grow the party.
LaVenia said anyone who is interested in helping the Green Party of New York State with fighting voter suppression can donate money to cover legal expenses or contact state legislators to let them know how important it is to have more choices in elections.