BOB CONFER: Minor parties face major obstacles in New York

Bob Confer

Up until last week 2019 was a good year for the Libertarian Party in New York.

In 2018, Libertarian candidate Larry Sharpe ran a spirited gubernatorial campaign. His voice and vision were so fresh, so different that he became the only political candidate this writer has ever endorsed in 14 years of this column. Nearly 100,000 New Yorkers shared my assessment and cast votes for Sharpe. By surpassing the state’s 50,000-vote threshold, the Libertarian Party (LP) gained true ballot access in 2019 for the first time ever in the LP’s 47-year history in the Empire State.

Feeding off the energy of Sharpe’s efforts and the very-important ballot access which led to the party’s increased visibility and viability in New York, more people joined the LP (36% growth since February) and more people ran on the LP line (there were 60 candidates on local ballots throughout the state in November’s elections). Seven Libertarians won their elections and, come 2020, they will be serving a variety of roles from city councilman to town clerk to district attorney.

But, after all those successes came news last week from the state’s Commission on Public Finance that could potentially close-off inroads being made by the Libertarians and other so-called third parties.

Instead of achieving ballot access by securing 50,000 votes in the race for governor every four years, the minor parties would, under the commission's plan, have to requalify every two years by receiving either 2% of total votes or 130,000 votes in a presidential year or 140,000 in a gubernatorial year.

The nine-member commission, made up solely of Democrats and Republicans, looked at this as throwing a bone to third parties, as the original proposal called for a minimum of 250,000 votes per executive election.

When it comes to ballot access, 130,000 is just as bad as 250,000. It’s still a quantum leap from today’s standards and it creates a significant hurdle for parties attempting to woo electors and electeds to the fold.

How significant?

Of the most popular minor parties in New York only the Conservative Party would have been left standing after 2018’s election were the rules in play, it having secured nearly 239,000 votes. Struck from 2019 and 2020 ballots would have been the Libertarians and parties that have for the most part become widely-recognizable across the state – Working Families, Green, Independence and the Serve America Movement.

The loss of ballot access makes things very difficult for those who want to break up the status quo. Rather than putting all of their grassroots and administrative efforts in developing ideas, candidates and support, the unqualified parties have to complete a petition process to get a candidate listed on the ballot.

Of course, the commission has chosen to make that more difficult, too. Currently, it takes 15,000 signatures. Under the commission’s plan minor parties will need 45,000. Just imagine the roadwork, hustle and hassle that is needed to canvas the state for three times as many John Hancocks than are needed now.

Removing ballot access from a party also removes some democratic principles from party members. An unqualified party is unable to have a primary for state-wide offices. That means it’s up to party heads to decide who’s running under their title; it’s not up to the people of the party. That not only silences different voices, it can lead to infighting among the power brokers of the party.

This is all part of the commission’s plan.

They want the infighting.

They want alternative ideas to be quieted.

They want the minor parties to be unrecognizable and forgettable.

They want the two-party system to continue its domination.

They want to control every one of us and everything we do.

It’s not the least bit coincidental that the de facto chairman of the commission is Jay Jacobs, the head of the state’s Democratic Party. It was a commission doing the work of two parties, not of the many people. If the commission’s very significant policy changes don’t tell you that they think minor parties could really pose a threat to their power, then nothing will.

Some will say that’s conspiracy talk, that minor parties are meaningless and can have no positive impact. I could say the same about the major parties.

Look around the state. What have Governor Cuomo and his Democratic cronies done to improve our economy’s standing? What did Governor Pataki and his Republican cohorts do to stave off economic decline? Nothing and nothing.

Look around the country. Too many Americans are all-in with the Democrats or the Republicans. That partisan divide has made our nation an ugly mess.

It time for something a little different, even if that difference is sprinkled in a little at a time.

The LP won seven seats this year. That’s where revolutions start.

State commissions? That’s where revolutions end.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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