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McCain Files Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of New York’s Ballot Access Rules

December 22, 1999

For Immediate Release
December 22, 1999

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736

McCain Files Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of New York’s BAllot Access Rules
GOP Presidential Campaign, Molinari, and New York Voters Claim Burdensome Laws Violate First Amendment Rights; and Deny Ballot Access to All Publicly Funded Candidates

Determined to guarantee New Yorkers more choice in the GOP presidential primary, Republican voters and presidential candidate John McCain joined forces today to file a federal lawsuit challenging the notoriously draconian rules barring candidates from the New York Republican Primary.

Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari, Larry Rockefeller, and Senator McCain filed the suit, asserting the same claims that persuaded a federal court to place Steve Forbes on the Republican primary ballot in 1996. They are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Emery Cuti Brinckerhoff & Abady, the same legal team that successfully litigated the 1996 case. The lawsuit, Molinari v. Powers, was filed in federal district court in Brooklyn.

“The New York State Republican primary has maintained its record as the least democratic election in the nation,” Brennan Center President E. Joshua Rosenkranz stated. “Elections are supposed to express the voters’ choice. Laws that arbitrarily restrict that choice to one or two candidates are blatantly unconstitutional.”

Outlining the burdens imposed on Republican presidential candidates, the complaint reviews how the state legislature allowed New York’s Democratic and GOP leaders to choose their own procedures for the primaries. The GOP process requires that candidates not only collect 5,000 signatures from registered party members anywhere within the state, but also that they satisfy onerous petition requirements in each of the state’s 31 congressional districts – all in a 37-day window during the holiday season. The validity of signatures is often challenged by rivals, leading to costly and lengthy legal fights.

As has been the case for decades, the complaint details, New York will offer Republican voters fewer choices than any other state in the nation. Only Texas Gov. George W. Bush is guaranteed a spot on the ballot, because the Republican Party leadership has directed the party apparatus to satisfy the requirements for him. Steve Forbes may also surmount New York’s arcane hurdles, but only because he will spend his personal fortune hiring professional petition circulators. Candidates Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, and Orrin Hatch have each been priced out of the New York market.

“New York’s law produces the perverse result that voters will not be able to vote for a single Republican candidate who receives public funding,” stated Richard Emery, of Emery Cuti Brinckerhoff & Abady. “So candidates with unlimited resources or unlimited support from party leaders have full access to the ballot; and it’s tough luck for candidates that live by voluntary spending limits.” Emery continued: “We are confident the court will order a full and fair election, just as it did in 1996.”