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State lawmakers vote to curb "party raiding" tactics aimed at minor political parties

ALBANY – The State Legislature on Thursday voted to curb "party raiding," after complaints by Democrats that some Republican and Conservative Party members had switched their enrollment to the liberal Working Families Party, forcing primaries for the minor party's ballot line.

The practice, reported last month by Newsday, saps resources of the WFP and potentially denies the minor party’s line to Democrats endorsed by WFP leaders.

The Assembly approved the measure 103-46 primarily along party lines.

Democrats say Republicans and Conservatives have switched parties to temporarily join the WFP, with which they may share no policy principles, in efforts to force primaries and potentially deny the minor party line to Democrats.

Supporters said the bill was prompted in part by a Newsday story on May 23. The measure was introduced two weeks later and moved to floor votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate on June 9, and in the Assembly Thursday.

Under the new legislation, which must be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a new party member who forces a primary wouldn’t be placed on the ballot alongside the party's endorsed candidate. Instead, the new members would have to run as write-in candidates.

Also, "a write-in ballot cast in a party primary for a candidate not enrolled in such party shall be void and not counted," according to the legislation.

Newsday reported that a few longtime members of the Republican and Conservative parties re-registered with the WFP early this year in Southampton.

Weeks later they mounted primary challenges against candidates WFP leaders already had vetted and chosen as candidates for town offices in the June 22 primary.

Because New York has "fusion" voting, in which candidates can run on more than one ballot line, Democrats often seek the WFP line to attract votes from independents and others who might not want to vote on the Democratic ballot line.

Assemb. Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) said the practice "makes it possible for people to re-register and take over that party … you see more and more people registering in a party to sabotage that party."

Republicans said even new members of a party should be able to challenge the choice of "party bosses."

"This is trampling our constitutional rights of free speech," Assemb. Michael Norris (R-Lockport), said of the legislation.

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