The Appellate Division's Adjudication of Challenges to Political Party Nominations in 2018, and Its Meaning for Ballot Access in New York

By Bucki, Craig R. | Albany Law Review, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

The Appellate Division's Adjudication of Challenges to Political Party Nominations in 2018, and Its Meaning for Ballot Access in New York


Bucki, Craig R., Albany Law Review


After generations of authorizing the removal of prospective electoral candidates from the ballot for dubious technical reasons, New York State enacted the Ballot Reform Act in order to alleviate trivial hurdles, as detailed as designating petition cover sheet requirements, that had traditionally compromised opportunities for new candidates to run for office. (1) By allowing certain aspects of the Election Law to "be liberally construed, not inconsistent with substantial compliance thereto and the prevention of fraud," (2) the Act sought to achieve the New York State Legislature's goals of "easing those requirements which govern access to the ballot," (3) and to end the status of "New York's ballot access laws... [as] the laughingstock of the nation." (4)

Even so, at least two 2018 appellate division decisions that rejected potential candidacies on technical grounds--for which the candidates had no control to ensure compliance--demonstrate that more remains to be done to achieve the promise of equitable ballot access in New York. In Matter of Fuentes v. Catalano, (5) the Second Department invalidated the nominations of two Democratic candidates for New York State Supreme Court in Richmond County, solely because it concluded that the Chair and the Secretary of the nominating convention had not filed minutes of the convention with the New York City Board of Elections ("NYCBOE") within seventy-two hours after the convention's adjournment. (6) This was so, even though a word-for-word convention transcript notarized by a stenographer--a more complete and detailed record of the convention's proceedings than mere minutes--was indeed timely filed with the NYCBOE. (7)

Several days later, in Matter of Cox v. Spoth, (8) the Fourth Department rejected the nomination of Francina J. Spoth to seek election on the Democratic line for the position of Town Clerk in the Town of Amherst, New York, solely because the certificate reflecting that nomination had been issued by the Erie County Democratic Party's Executive Committee that had been constituted in 2016, rather than by a new Executive Committee constituted after the September 2018 primary election. (9) The New York Court of Appeals had expressly permitted "an outgoing executive committee... to file a certificate of nomination if it was 'effectively impossible to canvass and certify the newly elected committee members, convene an organizational meeting, elect a [new executive committee], and file a proper certificate of nomination' within the applicable time frame" required by statute. (10) Yet, in this case, the Fourth Department invalidated the certificate of nomination nonetheless, because it concluded that the Erie County Democratic Party could have convened more than forty reorganization meetings, on at least four days' notice each, to take place in only six days throughout the towns and cities of Erie County to choose a new executive committee to issue the certificate. (11)

The difficult outcomes for prospective candidates in Fuentes and Cox--denying ballot access for than technical reasons over which the candidates had little power to ensure compliance (12)--counsel that further reform is necessary to expand opportunities for New Yorkers to compete for election to public office. Such reform could arise from appropriate action by either the New York State Legislature or the judiciary. (13) As the Legislature enacted Election Law section 6-134(10) more than twenty years ago to moderate New York's rules for the petitioning process, so could it amend the Election Law again to apply liberal construction "not inconsistent with substantial compliance thereto and the prevention of fraud," (14) to New York's rules that govern ballot access via methods other than the collection and filing of petition signatures. Alternatively, the New York State Courts could choose more often to apply already available common-law precedent that would excuse candidate nomination "procedural defect[s]. …

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