New York’s New Voting System Procedure Could Cost Votes for Minor Parties

September 15, 2010

New York – The Working Families Party and the Conservative Party --  represented by the Brennan Center for Justice and the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady -- filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging a discriminatory New York State policy for counting political party votes under a procedure known as “double voting.”

Double voting results when a voter checks more than one box for the same candidate running on more than one party line. Under the state’s policy, the major party gets the full vote and the minor party gets no credit.

New York’s “fusion” voting system allows for the same candidate to run on both a major party as well as a minor party line. This allows voters to vote for a major party candidate while supporting a minor party. With the lever machines used in New York until this year, voters could not vote for the same candidate on both major and minor party lines.  With the new system, voters can “double-vote” in this way, without any warning that their vote will only count for the major party and without any opportunity to correct their ballot.

“The policy unfairly penalizes minor parties and favors the parties of the Democrats and Republicans who write and administer the laws,” said Mike Long, Chairman of the New York State Conservative Party.  “Our voters deserve their support for our party to be counted,” added Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the Working Families Party. 

The issue is of particular importance to minor parties in New York, given that the results of the gubernatorial election are used to determine a party’s placement on the ballot for the next four years. Only parties who receive at least 50,000 votes are entitled to a guaranteed place on the ballot, and the order of their appearance is based on the number of votes that they previously received.

“The state should take corrective action immediately. This policy is unconscionable and blatantly unconstitutional,” Eric Hecker, partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, said.  “The law does not allow for the state to favor major parties and ignore a voter’s support for minor parties,” added Wendy Weiser, Director of the Voting Rights Project at the Brennan Center. 

 “When a voter has unambiguously expressed her intent to support both a major party and a minor party, the State cannot simply ignore the minor party and, without informing the voter, blindly credit the vote to the major party,” the complaint reads.

“This is a problem the state should correct immediately,” said Lawrence Norden, senior counsel at the Brennan Center. “The machines should provide voters with a notification and their ballots automatically be returned to them.”

This action follows on the heels of another lawsuit filed by the Brennan Center on behalf of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, challenging New York State’s policy of handling overvotes, which will potentially cause tens of thousands of votes to be discarded.

More information on the lawsuit, including a copy of the complaint, click here.  For more information or to set up interviews, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu or at 646-292-8322.