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Political Candidates Required to Get Signatures to Be on the Ballot: Court Ruling

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Feb. 23, 2021 By Christina Santucci

A state supreme court justice has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nearly 100 political candidates that sought to cancel the requirements for in-person signatures required to get on the ballot.

The group of more than 100 plaintiffs, including about a dozen Queens candidates, filed suit Feb. 8 against Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, asking for the signature requirement to be lifted because of the pandemic.

The plaintiffs also called on the state to come up with a new process to determine who qualified to be on the ballot.

Justice Frank P. Nervo, in rendering his decision, sided with state officials, who had already lowered the number of signatures required by candidates last month to lessen the health risks.

“The legislature and executive are the branches of government best equipped to exercise judgment in response to COVID-19’s impact on the electoral process,” Justice Nervo wrote, as opposed to the judiciary.

The plaintiffs argued that gathering signatures is a risk to public health, a violation of the constitution. The constitution mandates the state to protect public health — as well as the right to free speech and equal protection under the law, which the suit said would be violated if candidates and their supporters had to collect signatures in person.

Justice Nervo acknowledged in his decision that the pandemic had made the petitioning process more difficult and necessitated additional safety measures.

But he called the request to remove the signature requirements — as opposed to reducing them — “a disagreement of judgement, not constitutionality.”

Political candidates must collect a threshold of signatures depending on which office they are running for, but they typically gather many more than needed in case the signatures are challenged by their opponents.

On Jan. 28, Cuomo signed the state legislature’s bill to reduce the number of signatures by about 70 percent. For example, City Council candidates are now required to collect 270 signatures from registered voters in their district, instead of 900.

Candidates are scheduled to begin collecting signatures on March 2 in order for them to appear on the ballot. The petitions, with the requisite number of signatures, must be filed with the Board of Elections from March 22 to 25.

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