U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff has denied the state Board of Election’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Working Families and Conservative parties over how New York’s new paper ballot voting system affects third parties, according to the groups.
Candidates in the state often receive cross-endorsements from two or more political parties. Voters decide which party line they want to vote for the candidates on. Under the old mechanical-lever voting machines, it was only possible to pull one lever for the candidate. But with paper ballots, there’s nothing to stop someone from mistakingly voting for a candidate on two different party lines. In those cases of “double voting,” the vote goes to the first political party that appears on the ballot. For example, a vote for someone on the Democratic and Independence Party lines would count as a Democratic vote.
Third parties, which live and die by the number of votes they get, are not happy with that solution. The stakes are high for them because if they don’t get at least 50,000 votes in an election, they lose their automatic spot on the ballot and have to petition their way on for the next four years.
“New York’s double voting policy hands votes to the major political parties at the expense of minor parties,” Mike Long, state chairman of the Conservative Party, said in a statement.
The Working Families and Conservative parties filed the lawsuit before last year’s elections, with assistance from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. They were unable to get a preliminary injunction or a requirement that the Board of Elections program the scanners to alert voters about double voting or post signs at polls about the issue.
“Our voters have the right to stand up and be counted just like the others,” said Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party.
The Brennan Center filed another federal lawsuit on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights organizations. They contend that the scanning machines programmed by the state and New York City boards of election do not give voters adequate warning and opportunity to correct “overvotes” — votes that can’t be counted because scanners read the ballots as having too many votes for a particular contest.
Other states return the ballots so voters have another chance to fill them out properly, but New York’s give what the Brennan Center and other groups consider a confusing message and green “cast” button. Voters are not told that their vote won’t count if they press the green button.