By Aedan Perry | November 7, 2022
Albany Sample Ballot
Photo Credit: Albany County Board of Elections
It's election time again in Albany, and many students will be casting ballots for the first time. Despite the Governor's race getting a lot of attention this year, many students and first-time voters might not realize that New Yorkers have significantly fewer options this year than previous election cycles.
This year's N.Y. Governor's race features only two candidates: Lee Zeldin and Kathy Hochul. The last time there were only two gubernatorial candidates on the ballot was in 1946, according to the New York Times, and every New York governor's race for the past 30 years has had at least 5 candidates.
However, 2022 isn't a fluke. The low number of candidates is a direct result of changes to the ballot access process passed under former governor Andrew Cuomo, which tripled the number of signatures needed for new parties to get on the ballot from 15,000 to 45,000. This greatly increased the number of votes needed for a party to automatically gain ballot access in future campaign cycles.
The new rules were first passed into law by a Campaign Finance Reform Commission created by the New York State Assembly in 2019. The commission was set up so that any rule changes it suggested would automatically become law if not acted upon in the legislature within three weeks. The commision then waited until the Legislature's Christmas Recess to release their suggestions, as the recess prevented the legislature from meeting long enough for the committee's suggestions to take effect. These changes were initially struck down by a state court in March 2020, who ruled that the committee had been improperly delegated power by the Assembly. Despite this, Governor Cuomo passed the rules as part of his annual budget, and they've been in effect ever since.
In the 2020 election, only four of the eight then-qualified parties in New York received the 2% of the vote needed to get on the ballot without petitioning this year, those being the Democratic, Republican, Working Families (WFP) and Conservative Parties. Of those, the Democratic and Working Families Parties both nominated Hochul this year, and the Republican and Conservative Parties both nominated Zeldin.
No party this year was able to collect the 45,000 signatures needed to petition their way onto the ballot. Not even Zeldin, who sought the ballot line of the Independence Party, was able to collect enough signatures, after the State Board of Elections determined that 11,000 signatures on his petition were photocopies. The Zeldin campaign denied any knowledge of the photocopies, while the NY Democratic Party called for a criminal investigation of what they claimed was a widespread fraud attempt.
All this has resulted in four parties on the ballot this year, with two candidates between them, but that may not be the end of ballot shrinkage. In order for parties this year to remain qualified for future elections, they need to get at least 130,000 votes or 2% of the total vote, whichever is greater (The 2% will be the higher value if turnout exceeds around 49.5% this year, according to the latest registration statistics released by the New York Board of Elections).
If this standard was in place during the past two gubernatorial elections, the WFP would have failed to meet it both times. If they fail to meet it this year, they will experience the same fate that befell other third parties in 2020. On the other hand, they received more votes in 2020 than ever before, so that increase in support might allow them to hang on to their ballot line this year as well. The other three parties are in no danger of failing to receive enough votes to retain their ballot access.
All of this seems to indicate that many Albany students will have fewer options on who to vote for than their parents and grandparents used to, and that this change might affect New Yorkers for years to come.