As both an attorney and elected official, people often ask me about the process to get on the ballot to run for public office in New York State. Most people seem to think that a candidate gets endorsed at a political convention, but that is only partly true. While candidates do seek the endorsement of political parties at local or county conventions, that endorsement only means that the district leaders for that political party will support you and help you get on the ballot (which is very important).
However, unless you are running for state-wide office (senator, governor, attorney general or comptroller, who are nominated at state conventions), you must obtain signatures on "designating petitions." This is the requirement for congress, state legislature, county legislature or local city and town elections (but not villages or supreme court). We are in the final week to collect signatures on designating petitions for New York's five established parties—Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Working Families and Independence. As a matter of fact, I walked my neighborhood this past Sunday night and collected signatures.
What do I mean by designating petitions? New York State Election Law sets forth the required procedures to collect the signatures on the designating petitions and to get on the ballot—see NYS Election Law Sections 6 - 118, 120, 122, 130, 132, 134, 136, 144 & 146. The Election Law requires candidates to obtain signatures of 5 percent of the registered voters in the district from the political party whose line they seek. Most candidates try to get about 10 percent to avoid any legal challenges. Therefore, since the first week of June, volunteers for candidates of all political parties have been ringing door bells and asking voters to sign designating petitions that will get candidates on the ballot, and this Thursday is the deadline to file these petitions with the Board of Elections.
For example, last year I needed about 375 signatures to run for re-election to the Westchester County Board of Legislators on the Republican line, and we were pleased to file more than 700 signatures.
If you are a registered voter in a political party and meet the 5 percent signature requirement from members of that party, you are on the ballot. If more that one candidate files petitions for a particular seat, they will face-off in a primary in mid-September. For candidates without primaries, they go straight to the November election.
What about seeking the lines of parties for which you are not a member? If you wish to run with a party line besides your own, you must meet the 5 percent signature requirement, as well as get permission from that party to run on its line.
And if you think your opponent's designating petitions do not contain enough proper signatures to meet the required number, you can try to knock out those petitions with a legal challenge.
Every candidate across party lines can agree on one thing—they are incredibly thankful for the great volunteers that have been carrying these designating petitions over the past six weeks. Many dedicated people have worked diligently to get candidates on the ballot for this November—so that voters have a real choice on Election Day. I have been carrying petitions for about twenty years now and am happy to report that most people are friendly in the doorway (but yes, there are a few cretins who are rude or too "busy" to participate in democracy). Thanks so much to all the wonderful volunteers carrying the petitions and to the helpful voters who signed them—you all play an important role in our democratic electoral process. Best of luck to all the candidates this year (especially the ones I am supporting)!
James Maisano, Esq.