by DAN CANTOR and MIKE LONG
Anyone familiar with New York politics knows that there isn't much the Conservative and Working Families parties agree on. But one idea we both hold dear is that voters should have the right to have their votes for minor parties count. That's why we're extremely concerned about a judge's recent decision to let stand a policy that will penalize voters and minor parties alike by disregarding votes cast on minor party lines when a voter makes a mistake at the ballot box.
By now, many voters know that New York has replaced its lever machines with optical scanners. This November will mark the first general election in which all New Yorkers will vote on paper ballots that will be read by the scanners. What is less well known is that the state has set up these scanners to favor the major parties - Democrats and Republicans - at the expense of minor parties.
Here's how it works. New York's "fusion" voting system allows for the same candidate to run on both a major party as well as a minor party line. For instance, this year voters can cast their ballot for Andrew Cuomo on either the Democratic, Independence or Working Families Party line and Carl Paladino on either the Republican or Conservative line. This allows voters to vote for a major party candidate while expressing their support for a minor party.
With the lever machines used in New York until this year, voters could not vote for the same candidate on both major and minor party lines. With the new system, voters can "double-vote" in this way, without any warning that their vote will only be counted for the major party and without any opportunity to correct their ballot.
In other words, this November, if you happen fill in the oval for Andrew Cuomo under both the Democratic and Working Families Party lines, the machine will not alert you to your mistake - nor give you an opportunity to correct it. It will simply count your vote for Cuomo on the Democratic line and disregard your vote on the Working Families Party line. Same if you filled in the bubble for Paladino on the Conservative and Republican lines. The Republicans get the vote, while the Conservative ballot is cast aside. The state ignores the fact that the voter has expressed intent to support a minor party.
So what, you might say. At least my vote for Cuomo or Paladino got counted. Not so fast. By cross endorsing-candidates, minor parties are able to advance the issues they care about by forcing politicians to acknowledge an additional constituency. It is critical for minor political parties to be able to measure the support that they receive at the ballot box in order to attract new candidates, raise money and advance their agenda.
Unfortunately, the new voting method places the very existence of minor parties in New York in jeopardy. Under state law, a party must receive at least 50,000 votes for its gubernatorial candidate, or it will lose an automatic spot on the ballot in the future. Not only that, but the parties appear on the ballot in an order determined by the number of votes that their previous gubernatorial candidate received.
With the obstacles that already exist for minor parties, it is anything but a level playing field to compete with the major parties. The gears of the political system in Albany have been set for too long to benefit them. And now, there is yet another obstacle to third parties earning the voters' attention.
A double vote is an honest mistake. The state should choose to recognize it as such by returning the ballot and giving the voter an opportunity to choose which party they intend to support. The state should never make this choice on behalf of the voter - especially if that choice might cost a political party recognition and support.
While we lost the first round of our challenge to this law in court, we will continue to work to overturn it in court and in Albany, through legislative means. Until then, voters who support a minor party should take extra care to mark their ballot only once for each office on Nov. 2.
Cantor is executive director of the Working Families Party. Long is chairman of the Conservative Party.