A state appellate court affirmed a lower court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Upstate Jobs Party challenging New York's ballot access rules.
The party sought to prevent the Onondaga County Board of Elections from consolidating its line with the Independence Party in the race for county executive.
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, a Republican, has been endorsed by four other parties for the general election. The Upstate Jobs Party is considered an independent body because it lacks automatic ballot status.
To gain automatic ballot status, the party must receive at least 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election. Upstate Jobs endorsed candidates for other offices in the 2018 election, but didn't support any of the gubernatorial candidates.
Under state election law, independent bodies are consolidated onto the lowest line on the ballot when candidates have two or more political party lines. For the Upstate Jobs Party, that means it will be listed on the Independence Party line.
The Upstate Jobs Party challenged the law by claiming it violated its First Amendment rights. A state Supreme Court judge rejected that assertion. The Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department agreed with the ruling, citing other cases over the years.
"We reject plaintiffs' challenges to the constitutionality of the statute inasmuch as any alleged burdens on plaintiffs' rights are outweighed by the state's interest in avoiding voter confusion and 'preventing the major party candidates from pre-empting the whole ballot through the device of setting up independent political bodies,'" the judges wrote.
Timothy Dunn, a spokesman for the Upstate Jobs Party, said they're disappointed with the ruling.
"Despite the claim by the state that UJP's presence would overcrowd the ballot, the sample ballot provided shows that to be false, and the BOE (controlled by the major parties) produced NO EVIDENCE to the contrary," he said.
Dunn added, "New York sets the bar quite high for independent bodies to secure a line on the ballot, requiring many more signatures than established parties. Even after meeting this higher threshold, the challenged law allows the major parties to consolidate UJP's hard won line with a party of the Board of Election's choosing, without even informing UJP. That is wrong."
Onondaga County Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny, one of the defendants in the case, believes the appellate court made the right decision. He noted that there have been similar lawsuits in the past, including a case involving John Cahill, a Republican candidate for state attorney general in 2014, who sued the state Board of Elections because Greene County consolidated an independent body with an existing political party line on the ballot.
Czarny said the statute is in place to prevent major party candidates from loading the ballot with additional lines.
"We already have eight established political parties that can cross-endorse and then allowing (candidates) to have even more lines on the ballot would add to the length of the ballot, would add to the cost and I'm not sure it would be of any benefit to the voters," he said.
The Upstate Jobs Party formed in 2016 when its founder, Martin Babinec, ran for the 22nd Congressional District seat. The party has been active in state and local elections over the last few years. It endorsed Ben Walsh for Syracuse mayor in 2017 and backed Bob Antonacci in the 50th Senate District race.
This year, the party is supporting candidates in local elections across the state. The party endorsed McMahon for Onondaga County executive and Lynne Dixon, a Republican candidate for Erie County executive.
Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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