Newly passed state legislation may have moved up the date to circulate nominating petitions to the coldest part of the year, but it has cut by 25 percent the minimum number of signatures major party countywide candidates must collect to qualify for the ballot.

Until this year, the minimum number of valid signatures required for such candidates in Nassau and Suffolk counties was 2,000. Under the new law, the number is 1,500. In Suffolk, the major countywide race is for county executive; in Nassau, it is for district attorney.

For county legislature candidates in Nassau and Suffolk, the number of required signatures is 375, down from 500, according to election officials. However, all sides are likely to collect more signatures to guard against petition challenges. In what may be an unintentional political joke, the first date for filing those petitions is April Fools' Day.

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