If nothing changes, New York State will not have independent candidates on the general election ballot in November. Only candidates who affiliate with a party and win their party’s nomination will be on the ballot this November. Governor Cuomo’s executive order suspending petitioning for independent candidates, for both the Presidential race and for all races down the ballot, offer no alternative to get on the ballot in November. Governor Cuomo must offer a path to the ballot for independent candidates. Otherwise, he risks presiding over a constitutionally defective election. Moreover, in negotiating a path for independent candidates, the Governor needs to move past the petty politics that dominate the party primaries, to end the byzantine petitioning process and to switch to digital or electronic signatures.

In normal years, a candidate has to secure a legislated number of signatures on a petition to be on the ballot, with the number of signatures depending on the office and whether the race is a primary or general election. The more local the office and the fewer the voters, the lower the number of signatures requirement, but all in ink and signed by a witness. This year, the petitioning period for the primary had been scheduled for February 25 through March 31; for the general election, it was scheduled for April 14 through May 26. On March 13, Governor Cuomo, however, issued an Executive Order that shortened the primary petitioning period, ending it on March 17, also lowering the number of required signatures by 70%. For example, Congressional candidates who normally need 1250 signatures had to collect 375. But on March 31, because of the Covid-19 crisis, the Governor issued another Executive Order suspending general election petitioning, taking away any path to the general election ballot for independent candidates.

On the morning he issued his first Executive Order, the Governor encouraged New Yorkers to stay inside. That is, unless they were collecting signatures for election petitions. From March 13 through March 17, people were put at risk, and possibly contracted Covid-19, but only because of a commitment to the arcane practice or requiring written signatures. While the first order has its own Constitutional problems, the second one unabashedly disenfranchises the 25% of New Yorkers who identify as independent voters. This cannot stand, but unless someone files a legal action, it will. Perhaps the Governor is motivated by the petty politics of New York State. The State and local party committees have a near stranglehold on party nominations, often rendering primaries moot. This stranglehold is powered by one thing: the deadly petitioning process. When an outsider tries to get on the primary ballot, the local committees challenge every part of the petition and every signature. Political considerations should not factor into the Governor’s decisions.

The governor is no stranger to adjusting signature requirements during the pandemic. Notaries, marriages, prescriptions, education, legal filings and much more have been accommodated with digital, electronic or virtual alternatives. The glaring exception is election petitioning. For primary petitions, he got away with a solution that filled the ballots but still

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relied on signatures, but that was early in the pandemic. The hypocrisy was ignored. But for the general election petitions, where the pandemic precludes original signatures, the Governor’s disenfranchisement of independents is hypocrisy is on full display.

The Governor has an opportunity to lead New Yorkers to a modern and easy ballot access and voting process. Most New Yorkers would never rely on the USPS to deposit or withdraw money from a bank. Nevertheless, signatures are the only way to get on the ballot and the USPS is the only way to vote if one is unable to get to the polls. It’s even called a Mail-In Ballot. Governor Cuomo can be a hero of voter enfranchisement or he can let it erode in the swamp of petty politics. He can address voting after Covid from the lofty perch where he is praised as a leader or he can regress to the disenfranchising politics-as-usual.