Editorial: Ease ballot signature requirement

Make it easier for candidates to get on the ballot by making temporary relief permanent

In solving one election-related problem, state legislators inadvertently created a new one.

And because that problem could make it tougher for candidates to get on the ballot in local primary elections, lawmakers need to solve it right away.

New York had a history of holding two separate primary elections — one in June for federal races (congressional races) and another in September for state and local races.

Forcing local boards of elections to fund and staff two separate primary elections was costly and unnecessary.

So to reduce the burden, lawmakers merged the elections into a single primary, now scheduled for the fourth Tuesday in June. So far so good.

The problem it created was that the window for candidates to gather the number of signatures they need to qualify for the ballot had suddenly been shortened by several months.

To compound the problem, the new signature gathering period — which runs from Feb. 26-April 4 — occurs mostly in the winter months, when it’s difficult for candidates to go door to door because of the cold, snow and early darkness.

The number of signatures required to get on a ballot in New York varies, depending on the seat being sought and other considerations. In general, candidates must get 5 percent of the enrolled voters or a set number established by the state, whichever is less. For village elections, the state uses a different formula. 

To help candidates and committee members adapt to the new, earlier primary deadlines, lawmakers have proposed reducing the number of signatures candidates need to qualify for the  primaries. 

One bill (A2570/S2862) would reduce the number of required signatures required by 25 percent and apply the exemption only to this year’s election. A similar bill (A2693/S2699) would cut the required number of signatures for certain races from 5 percent of enrolled voters to 3 percent, and would apply to this year and next year. Either would be fine.

But that makes us wonder: If the easier signature requirements are OK for this election, why not subsequent elections?

If one goal of election reform is to improve access to the ballot for candidates, and if a heavy petition signature requirement hinders access, why not reduce it?

Does it really make a difference to a candidate’s legitimacy if he or she gets 75 signatures instead of 100? Yet getting those 100 signatures might be a lot tougher for candidates with limited funds and party committee help.

Also, one of the main reasons for lowering the signature requirements for the earlier primary won’t go away after this year. Candidates for primaries will still have to go around gathering petition signatures in the winter months. It’s a particular hardship in the North Country.

Why not ease the burden permanently?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to sign one of these bills in the next few days in order for it to take effect before the signature period begins.

But for all the reasons cited for this legislation, and to improve ballot access for all, lawmakers should then consider making the lower petition signature requirement permanent.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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