New York Election Law Found Unconstitutional by Federal Court

August 26, 2004

For Immediate Release
Thursday, August 26, 2004

Contact Information:
Jennifer Weiser, 212 998-6745
Scott Schell, 212 998-6318

New York Election Law Found Unconstitutional By Federal Court
State Board of Elections Loses Again in Defense of Residence Requirement for Witnesses of Nominating Petitions

A federal court in Brooklyn yesterday struck down a residency requirement in New York States election law affecting independent candidates seeking to petition onto the ballot. The unconstitutional provision required that people collecting signatures on nominating petitions for independent candidates must live in the district for which the candidate is running for office. U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon ruled that the provision violated the core First Amendment right of political association. The courts ruling and reasoning echo a 2000 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Lerman v. Board of Elections that applied to party (as distinct from independent) candidates.

The law on this point could not be more clear, said Jennifer Weiser, associate counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The Constitution forbids residency requirements that infringe the ability of candidates to disseminate their political views. A related problem with such requirements is that they damage the ability of politically engaged citizens to build support for their favored candidate. As the court said, First Amendment protection for this type of political association is at its zenith. We are hopeful that this will mark the very last time that New Yorks Board of Elections adopts practices or defends laws that run afoul of the First Amendment in this way.

The case name is Chou v. New York State Board of Elections. For a copy of the courts opinion or for more information, please contact the Brennan Centers Scott Schell at (212) 998-6318.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, founded in 1995, unites thinkers and advocates in pursuit of a vision of inclusive and effective democracy. Its mission is to develop and implement an innovative, nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms.
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