Thirty-four candidates from across New York State submitted a petition to Governor Andrew Cuomo to suspend or reduce petitioning requirements needed to get on the ballot in response to Coronavirus fears on Tuesday.
In Brooklyn, Democratic candidates for local District Leader, State Committee and Judicial Delegate are required to collect at least 500 signatures from registered Democrats living in the district. For Congressional candidates, the minimum is 1250 signatures.
Peter Harrison, a Congressional candidate for District 12 who supports the petition, said ballot access requirements can be restrictive to candidates challenging incumbents or who are seen as outsiders to the party.
“Outside of a pandemic, the normal course of events is still fairly prohibitive for challengers,” said Harrison.
He pointed out that anonymous parties will often challenge the petitions of insurgent candidates on dubious grounds.
“You might be a registered Democrat in [your district]. You might have everything on the Board of Elections, but you sign your signature quickly because you’re in a rush and have to pick up your kids, and the signature doesn’t match the Board of Elections,” said Harrison. “They can disqualify that.”
These legal challenges force candidates to collect well over the required minimum, as to not risk falling below the threshold if signatures are disputed.
“When campaigns need to collect triple the signatures to safely make the ballot, they are tripling their chances of catching and spreading any given virus, including Covid-19,” wrote Mel Gagarin, the NY Congressional District 6 candidate who authored the petition. “What is safe for a ballot is not safe for our communities, our volunteers or our staff.”
Harrison worries that because the voters he is targeting include rent-stabilized and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants, who tend to be older and underinsured, that he could be exposing people to Coronavirus who are particularly vulnerable.
“There’s a real risk of a perfectly healthy volunteer being a carrier for this that doesn’t have any symptoms but is carrying that into a building,” said Harrison. “That really weighs heavily on me. I don’t want to put anyone at risk.”
Harrison has reduced signature collection shifts, but worries that without a change in the rules, a complete cessation will keep him off the ballot.
“In normal times we could make space to quibble over the particulars of election law,” wrote Gagarin in the petition. “But given our current state of emergency, it is clear that this process is creating an unnecessary layer of potential exposure for all involved.”
Bklyner contacted Gov Cuomo’s office for comment and has not yet received a response.