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Court rejects minor parties' effort to suspend tougher ballot law

A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that new

A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that new requirements making it more difficult for minor parties to get on the ballot in New York do not cause the parties irreparable harm. Credit: Sipa USA via AP/ANTHONY BEHAR/SIPA USA

ALBANY — A federal judge has refused to temporarily suspend a new state law that sets higher standards for minor political parties to secure automatic ballot lines, saying the parties aren’t likely to win their broader lawsuit to overturn the law.

The liberal Working Families Party and the bipartisan Serve America Movement party sought the preliminary injunction to temporary suspend the law for the November elections. Their lawsuit seeking to overturn the ballot law passed this year, however, may continue.

That law requires minor parties to attract more than twice the number of votes than they had to in the past and to do it twice as often — in presidential and governor races — in order to secure an automatic line on ballots statewide. The automatic line is critical for minor parties to maintain their party, raise funds, have political clout and avoid costly and labor-intensive petitioning to appear on ballots.

The minor parties called the new requirements a “severe burden” that violates the 14th Amendment’s right to equal treatment under law and weakens the voice of opposing political parties and voters under First Amendment free speech protections. In addition, the parties argued the new law further empowers the Democratic and Republican parties.

But U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan rejected those arguments.

“Because SAM Party and the WFP … have failed to demonstrate that allowing amended party qualifications requirements to take effect would violate their Constitutional rights, otherwise cause irreparable harm … or be against the public interest, their motions are denied,” the judge ruled late Tuesday.

The judge found the new rules for the minor parties “while not trivial are not severe.”

Under the new law, a minor party will have to attract 130,000 votes or 2% of the total vote cast in a gubernatorial election and in a presidential election beginning in November. The law amends a 1935 measure that required minor parties to attract 50,000 votes in the election of governors every four years to maintain an automatic ballot line.

“The state has no business making it harder for progressive New Yorkers to vote their values,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the Working Families Party, which began as a liberal wing of the Democratic Party in 1998.

A SAM spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The liberal Green Party, a progressive voice in New York since 1992, blamed the Democratic Party. The WFP and SAM have recently backed candidates challenging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Democratic Party he heads.

“It is unfortunate that the Democratic Party in New York chose to suppress democracy in 2020,” said Green Party co-chairman Peter LaVenia. “We will continue to fight and double down on our legal efforts.”

Cuomo had no comment.

Minor parties have been able to influence the major parties because New York is one of the few states that allows “fusion voting.” That means a major party candidate can also secure one or several minor party endorsements. That would allow a major-party candidate to potentially attract the minor party’s members and other voters who might be opposed to voting on a major-party line.

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