Call to Cancel Ballot Petitioning

Bay Ridge Democrats President Chris McCreight pounds the pavements to get nominating petitions signed. Photo from club’s Facebook page.

A coalition of borough electeds, political candidates, district leaders, and Democratic committee members slammed the petition to get on the ballot process, citing that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis would make it a potential “super spreader” event.

Today, Thursday, January 28, officials like City Councilmembers Brad Lander (D-Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, Kensington) and Carlos Menchaca (D-Red Hook, Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights), and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams added their voices to the ‘Cancel Ballot Petitioning’ effort in a virtual conference that advocated for health and safety over “bureaucratic democracy.”

The conference was organized by Manhattan county committee members Erica Vladimer and Lauren Trapanotto, and City Council Candidate for District 7 Corey Ortega. They sent a letter on January 27, obtained by City & State, emphasizing the need for state and city leaders to protect candidates, their supporters, and their constituents.

Ordinarily, the number of signatures required for mayor, comptroller, or public advocate are 3,750, the borough president office requires 2,000 signatures, and city council needs 450 signatures to stay on the ballot. Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s executive order reduced the requirements to 2,250 for mayor and others, 1,200 for borough president, and 270 for city council.

Five states have pushed for electronic signatures and petitioning in the past, between 2010 and 2019, including Colorado and Utah, which actually passed their bills for digital petitioning.

Williams said he is for suspending the petitioning process. “I think it’s a moral responsibility to do what we can to minimize people being in person with anything. We’ve spent time closing schools and businesses to then say that we have to have in person petitioning is a bit hypocritical,” said Williams. “And it’s not something that has a cost.”

Councilmember Brad Lander
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

Williams also noted the highly transmissible variant of COVID in some states and overseas that little is known about as a factor as well. 

“The idea, the clarity, the priority that we must put public health first at this period of time- We all know it and that’s why this is so straightforward and that’s why such an overwhelming number of the candidates, who might think differently on other issues, all agree a 100 percent on this,” said Lander.

The group also flat out disagreed with the recently passed legislation A03356/S02733, which reduces the number of signatures for petitions and therefore permits less people to go door to door. Vladimer said that the bill is not all-inclusive of the people who collect signatures, and won’t pass the legislature with enough time. 

“Yesterday, both houses of the state Legislature passed an election reform bill I introduced which will reduce the number of signatures for designating petitions by 70% for the upcoming election cycle. This will allow candidates to organize their campaigns, print their petitions, and collect voters’ signatures while respecting public health guidelines,” said Chair of Brooklyn Democratic Party and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park) about her bill.

Bichotte-Hermelyn said the bill also shortens the period to circulate petitions by two weeks and changes the dates for filing the petitions to coincide with the last week of the petition period.

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn

She said that heading into the second year of the pandemic the governor had lowered the petitioning threshold to 30 percent. “This upheld the integrity of the petitioning process, while still maintaining a safe way to have candidates who so desire get on the ballot. We must do the same again this year,” said Bichotte-Hermelyn.

Bichotte-Hermelyn acknowledged that the delayed vaccine distribution and supply shortage received from the federal government has been a definite concern.

“I believe we can be both protective of our democracy and maintain proper health precautions. It is our hope that this pandemic will end soon. The bill is expected to be presented to the governor to be signed into law,” said Bichotte-Hermelyn.