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Cuomo Ally Seeks To Block Third Parties From The Ballot

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A crucial ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to make it harder—if not impossible—for smaller political parties to get onto election ballots.

In an email obtained by Gothamist/WNYC and first reported by the Times, Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic chairman and Cuomo’s appointee to the Campaign Financing Commission, asked the commission’s lawyer about the legality of raising the bar for ballot lines.

“Given the charge to the Commission in the statute, is the Commission able to change the party qualification threshold?” Jacobs wrote to James McGuire, a former aide to Governor George Pataki, and cc-ing the eight other commission members.

The answer from McGuire wasn’t clear, but if Jacobs and the commission makes that change when they submit their final proposal, it’s sure to become part of an ongoing legal challenge arguing that only the legislature can change election laws, not an appointed commission.

Jacobs’ suggestion: replace the current requirement for ballot admission, 50,000 votes on the previous gubernatorial line, to about 250,000 votes every two years—“an amount equal to 2% of all registered voters in the state.”

The idea adds further fuel to the fury of the Working Families Party, which asserts that Cuomo, working through Jacobs, is trying to sabotage the progressive left-leaning group. WFP typically endorses insurgent Democrats in primaries, notably Cuomo challenger Cynthia Nixon in 2018 and several state senate candidates who went on to flip that chamber from Republican to Democratic last year.

“Let’s call it what it is: a politically motivated hit job to take away a constitutionally protected right and tamp down the progressive movement,” said Bill Lipton, the WFP’s New York political director.

Jacobs has made clear his disdain for fusion voting in the past. This week, he told Gothamist/WNYC he believes minor parties ”benefit democracy” but “need to have a credible level of support.” Many, Jacobs said, are “sham parties” that clutter the ballots and confuse voters.

“Some of them have no organizational structure and do not follow the legal process for choosing and endorsing candidates,” he said.

Jacobs also said he has been looking at other states’ ballot access requirements, which is typically based on performance on previous elections.

“Three states are at 10 percent, a whole lot are at 5 percent, several are at 3 percent,” he said. “New York has one of the lowest in the country.”

He called the current 50-thousand cut-off “a joke.”

“Look at Bill de Blasio’s [polling] numbers in the presidential run – he was at 1 percent or less,” Jacobs said. “That’s not support. If you want your candidate to access public money, you have to demonstrate credibility.”

After handily losing its primary challenge to Cuomo in 2018, the WFP gave him its ballot line on Election Day and garnered 114,478 votes toward his 3.8 million total, out of almost 6 million cast. The Conservative Party, meanwhile, added 253,624 to the nearly 2 million votes cast for Republican Marc Molinaro.

The WFP fired back that Jacobs is skewing the numbers.

“One would expect such a proposal from the head of the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party,” Lipton said. “Mr. Jacobs points to New Jersey and Virginia with their 10-percent thresholds as a possible model—but they’re only model states if your goal is to get rid of minor parties. If democracy for all is your goal, New York is a heckuva lot better.”

The WFP said if 2018 was any guide, a higher threshold would preserve the Conservative Party while eliminating the progressives’ standard-bearer.

“This would leave alive the right-wing analogue of the WFP and vanquish us, providing a structural advantage for the Republicans and making it substantially more difficult for Senate Democrats to win supermajorities in the state any time soon,” said political strategist Monica Klein, a former WFP spokesperson and co-founder of Seneca Strategies.

Rebecca Katz, a former campaign advisor to Nixon and de Blasio, said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie would do well to disassociate his appointees on the commission from Cuomo’s. She said if Heastie’s people proceed to support Jacobs’ proposals for fusion voting, it would just give next year’s Assembly challengers something more to run on.

“If the Speaker’s appointees line up with Governor Cuomo’s and Jay Jacobs’ plan to silence more voices, the Assembly is putting its members at risk of primary challenges,” Katz said. “In New York, we’re supposed to be on the side of democracy.”

Speaking at a news conference, Cuomo echoed a talking point Jacobs made in his interview with WNYC/Gothamist: unless it’s harder to get on the ballot, there’ll be so many candidates that helping fund them with taxpayer dollars would cost a fortune.

“You have seven parties, you could have thousands of candidates [collectively, for hundreds of legislative positions],” Cuomo said. Publicly funding them all, the governor argued, “isn’t feasible.”

On Twitter, WFP co-chair Karen Scharff said Cuomo and Jacobs were exaggerating.

“Public funding goes to candidates not parties, and those candidates have to qualify for it by raising enough small donor [money],” she wrote. “There is no scenario where this comment has any relation to reality.”

Several progressives who are challenging Democratic incumbents in the Assembly say they would hold Heastie, the party and their opponents responsible for using the campaign financing commission to decimate the WFP.

“This was supposed to be an effort to expand the electorate and the diversity of people running for office,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, who’s running against five-term incumbent Michael DenDekker for his Assembly seat in northwest Queens. “It wasn’t supposed to launch an attack on third parties trying to give voices to all kinds of new people.”

At the end of a long hearing in Buffalo on Tuesday, in which several members of the public chastised Jacobs for trying to set ballot eligibility out of the Working Families Party’s reach, he asked his fellow commission members not to leak any more emails.

“It makes it hard for me to do my job and distribute information and keep everyone in the loop,” he said.



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