As the Sept. 15 primaries approach, some candidates are questioning how democratic the New York City election system is, including Miguel Santana, a candidate in the 14th City Council District, who was kicked off the ballot this morning.
Technically, any registered New York City resident can run for office with the support of 900 petitions signed by registered voters. However, the right number of signatures doesn't guarantee a candidate a coveted spot on the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) ballot.
This week, the BOE is in court to evaluate the legality of the candidates’ petitions and determine which candidates will be placed on the September primary ballot.
Here’s what the process involves:
Each candidate running for office needs to file at least 900 signed petitions from registered residents within their district. Easy enough, right? Not at all. In fact, the entire process is so wrapped up in lines of red tape that most candidates hire lawyers to untangle their web of confusion.
After the candidates turn in their 900 petitions in to the BOE, any registered resident can file an objection to the petition. The objection claims that the candidate’s petitions are not legal. After this objection is filed, the objector has a few days to file a specific objection, or a statement declaring why a certain number of petitions are invalid.
The specific objection is then shuffled on to the Bronx Supreme Court where a judge assigns a referee to oversee the candidate’s case. Next, the BOE sorts through the petitions and objections and determines the number of valid petitions. The candidate has the chance to go into the BOE and defend their petitions, but it is still up to the referee to decide which petitions are valid. If the candidate does not have 900 valid signatures by the end of the process, they are kicked off the ballot.
Minor filing mistakes such as the misspelling a street name or an illegible signature could render a petition unusable. Also, many candidates manipulate the system, critics say, by hiring a lawyer to nitpick through another candidate’s signed petitions and find legal irregularities.
If the candidate manages to defend their petitions, they still wasted valuable campaigning time trapped in a courtroom for a number of days in August, one month before the election.
The petition process is not always this complicated. For instance, if no objections are filed, the BOE does not check the legality of the petitions. Also, many objectors to the candidate’s petitions never get around to filing specific objections and sending the candidates to court.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for political newcomer Miguel Santana, a former candidate for the 14th District City Council. This morning, Santana was kicked off the primary ballot. Despite the letdown, Santana says, “I’m at peace that our campaign did the best to try to get on the ballot.”
Although all of the candidates running for District 14 City Council received objections, Santana was the only candidate to receive specific objections. Santana’s run for City Council ended when the BOE determined that only 878 petitions were valid.
As Santana walks away from the election 22 petitions short, he says, “I feel the process itself disenfranchises the voters. It is easier to knock people off the ballot than to facilitate an opportunity for a new candidate."Although disenfranchisement is a strong word, Santana's disappointment with the system does have some claim. The fact remains that if someone did not want a candidate to be on the ballot, they could hire a lawyer to sort through each petition and argue that signatures are forgeries because the handwriting is too similar. Even if the candidate did get on the ballot, their time spent in court deprived them of time that could have been spent campaigning. Everyday voters have no control over this process.
Santana thinks the entire petitioning process needs to be reformed. “The money spent on this process could be better used in the community. The community should be the one that benefits at the end of this process.”
What do you think? Is the petitioning process democratic? It is right for the court and lawyers to decide the candidates instead of the voters?