With presidential primary season set to begin in about six weeks, candidates
are busy securing their place on primary ballots across the country. In New York,
getting on the ballot in primary elections or as a so-called minor party candidate
in general elections has long been
The rules were particularly daunting for prospective candidates in the Republican
presidential primary. But following an uproar in 2000, things seem to have changed.
With new requirements designed to make getting on the Republican ballot in New
York easier, one wonders whether
Colbert could have made it onto the ballot if he had chosen to run in
New York rather than South Carolina.
State political parties set the rules for how a candidate can get his or her
name on the primary election ballot, meaning candidates must be sure to fulfill
the ballot requirements of each state. In one state a candidate may only have
to garner national media attention to be listed on the ballot, while others may
require candidates to collect signatures of voters from their party. This means
a candidate may be on the ballot in California but missing from it in New York.
Not only does access to the ballot vary across the country, but it also differs
between the different political parties within any given state.
The Democratic and Republican parties in New York set the requirements for presidential
candidates and party delegates. Democratic candidates have to collect 5,000 signatures
statewide to secure a place on the New York Democratic ballot. That requirement
has changed little over the years. However, the Republican Party instituted some
dramatic changes to its rules resulting in what some advocates hope will be a
more open ballot in the future.
The GOP Labyrinth
During the last Republican primary in New York, in 2000 (President George W.
Bush did not face a primary challenge in 2004), presidential candidates technically
did not appear on the ballot themselves. Republicans voted for three delegates
and alternates in each of the 31 congressional districts. Each delegate’s
name on the ballot was placed next to the name of the presidential candidate
to whom they were committed. The meant candidates seeking the Republican nomination
in New York had to ensure that at least one of the party delegates on the primary
ballot in each district in the state was committed to his campaign. In order
to get a delegate on the ballot, each “delegate-candidate” had to
collect the signatures of either 1,000 Republicans or 0.5 percent of registered
Republicans in that district, whichever was less. The candidate also was required
to collect 5,000 Republican signatures statewide.
New York drew national attention when in 2000 it appeared that presidential candidate
John McCain might not get on the Republican ballot. A campaigner for McCain mistakenly
wrote the wrong house numbers for the addresses of two signers. Because of the
mistake, their signatures were deemed invalid and McCain fell one signature short
of the required minimum to remain on the ballot. Eventually a judge ordered that
McCain delegates appear on the ballot. But, since voters chose delegates, not
their preferred presidential candidate, Bush was able to capitalize on having
prominent Republicans as his delegates and
Coordinating a campaign centered on securing ballot space for delegates in each
district rather than the individual candidate statewide can be daunting for challengers
without the resources the party can provide to its selected candidate. In districts
with a small number of Republican voters, it can be nearly impossible to obtain
the necessary number of signatures because the rules prohibit people from signing
more than one petition.
Opening the Ballot
After the 2000 elections, New York Republicans changed the ballot access laws
to make the process more open. Today,
presidential candidates have three different ways to obtain a place
on the ballot for the February 5 primary. They can appear on the ballot if they
qualify to receive public matching campaign funds, collect 5,000 signatures statewide
or if the State Board of Elections Commissioners determines that they are a nationally
recognized candidate in the media. In addition, on primary day, Republicans will
vote for the presidential candidate himself, not the delegates they represent.
Advocates of more open ballots hope that relieving candidates of the burden of
securing delegates space on the ballot, along with providing three different
avenues to get on the ballot, will provide more choices for voters on primary
day. “States often use high petition signature and filing fee requirements
to limit ballot access and thus constrain the choices of voters. Signature and
fee requirements for all candidates must be reasonable to ensure that voters
have a real choice and are not simply rubber stamping the picks of party leaders,” said
Chris Dreibelbis, communication director of The
Institute, a public policy group that evaluates state ballot access laws. “The
post-2000 changes instituted by the New York Republican Party are a marked improvement
from the previous highly restrictive rules.”
The Reform Institute gave New York an “F” rating in 2004 for the
state’s ballot access requirements and is set to release an updated evaluation
of all 50 states’ ballot access laws by the end of the year
However, candidates are not ensured a smooth ride. Easier ballot access also
aims at cutting down on cases where small margins of invalid signatures decide
the fate of a candidate. Despite this, candidates will probably mount challenges
in an effort to force some opponents off the ballot. As election lawyers from
all sides review petition signatures with a fine-tooth comb in attempts to purge
invalid signatures, minor challenges are likely. Procedural changes may reduce
the number of needless challenges, but in the race for the presidency no rock
The results of the changes in the Republican primary rules will be more apparent
after county hearings on ballot challenges are held in December. So far, though,
it appears that New York Republicans are looking at the most democratic procedure
to select a presidential candidate in decades.
Does this mean any Tom, Dick and Harry can get on the ballot? No. Would Colbert
have made it on the ballot? Who knows?
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