Running for Office Shouldn’t Be This Hard

One of the many things democratic elections should accommodate is freedom of choice—but what good is this choice if there’s nothing to choose from?

This is the current conundrum facing New Yorkers across the state, with only two candidates set to appear on ballots for governor this fall. Historical and recently instituted obstacles create unnecessary impediments for viable candidates and have dampened the interest of upstart candidates whose grassroots campaigns represent vital community voices. Those impediments also have frustrated a new generation of voters, now pessimistic about the possibility of government being the representative body it was originally conceived to be. In fact, the second largest and fastest-growing bloc of voters in the state – 3.5 million – are choosing not to join a party. That’s more voters than are enrolled in the Republican, Conservative and Working Families Party COMBINED.

All in all, it’s become way too hard to find democracy genuinely represented in our elections—and it needs to change.

Are these obstacles regarding ballot access purposeful? You bet.

As previously noted in this space, former NY Governor Andrew Cuomo convinced the State Legislature to significantly increase the threshold for a candidate to get on the ballot, TRIPLING the threshold from 15,000 signatures to 45,000. New York is already one of only a handful of states in the U.S. that requires both incumbents and challengers to file signatured petitions to secure a spot on the ballot, so this new step has made an already archaic process even more cumbersome.

Package these two realities together—and toss in a new requirement for party entrants to get at least 2% of the final vote in November—and we’ve seen the elimination of seven of New York’s nine minor parties in recent years. This has left only the Conservative and Working Families parties with dedicated ballot lines alongside the Republicans and Democrats—but since these two lines are often won by the GOP or Dem candidate, we’re often left with a two-horse race.

This is how consolidation of power works in New York, and election by election, these machinations are stiff-arming candidates whose only aim is to represent the needs of their potential constituents. 

If New York is to be the upper-tier U.S. state it’s thought to be, it needs to reduce these and other ballot restrictions, and give real power back to its voters. We deserve to choose between candidates we select, not those chosen for us—or whoever remains after enduring the state’s unnecessary obstacle course.

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