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Long IslandPolitics

Court battle underway over Women's Equality Party ballot lines

Gov. Andrew Cuomo listens to a question during

Gov. Andrew Cuomo listens to a question during a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Albany. Credit: AP Photo Mike Groll

ALBANY -- Courts have refused to allow at least a dozen Democrats to run in November elections in two upstate counties on the Women's Equality Party ballot line, which was created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Republicans considered those decisions in Montgomery and Warren County to be blows to Cuomo's effort to use the minor party ballot line to attract women voters away from Republicans in local elections.

But another court allowed a Montgomery County Democrat to run on the line in November. Democrats aligned with Cuomo said that decision was also a victory for control of the potentially influential minor party.

Similar fights by Republicans challenging Democrats trying to run on the Women's Equality Party are underway statewide.

The state Board of Elections said at least 14 lawsuits are underway statewide. Board spokesman John Conklin said one concern is that military ballots under federal law must be mailed Friday, even though the disputes probably won't be settled by then. A Nassau County challenge is scheduled to be heard in court Monday and a Suffolk County challenge is scheduled for Tuesday, according to the state Board of Elections.

None of the decisions settles who controls the party. Three groups are vying for the right to endorse candidates: One is aligned with Cuomo, another with former Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk of Sche-nectady County, and the third is a group of western New York Republicans. Tkaczyk seeks to have the party run by women and be independent of Cuomo.

In early September, a lower court ruled none of the groups have legal control because they don't have the support of the majority of 2014 candidates who ran on the line. Cuomo, his lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul, along with Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman ran on the Women's Equality Party ballot line last year. They attracted the 50,000 votes needed to give the party an automatic line on ballots for four years.

That court put on hold any challenges to candidates seeking the Women's Equality Party endorsement until the power struggle was resolved. But an appellate court last week removed that hold, prompting the challenges in counties statewide.

DiNapoli and Schneiderman, Democrats who haverocky relationships with Cuomo, aren't getting involved in the power struggle. They wouldn't comment Thursday.

The fight over who controls the party is expected to end up in the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

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