Volume 18 • Issue 10 | July 29 - August 4, 2005

Editorial

Petition challenges are a part of politics

Five candidates for City Council in the Second District — representing the East Side from Murray Hill to Grand St. — are crying foul after the team for another candidate, Rosie Mendez, challenged the signatures they collected to get on the ballot in the September Democratic primary.

That Mendez’s political organization, Coalition for a District Alternative, is challenging the petitions of all the other women and minority Democratic candidates in the race is being branded an outrage and “antidemocratic” by some of her opponents.

There should be a minimum threshold that must be met before a candidate has earned the right to be on the official ballot. In this case, for candidates running for City Council, 900 valid, legible petition signatures of registered Democrats living in the district must be collected.

Yet, one of the candidates whose petition signatures CoDA is challenging reportedly only collected 75 signatures. And Mendez is herself a woman and a minority, so it would be hard to accuse CoDA of racism or sexism.

Some so-called good-government groups are flatly against petition challenges, feeling knocking candidates off the ballot is antithetical to giving voters a choice. In theory, that all sounds well and nice. Yet, forcing candidates to meet the petition requirements is a good early test of what they’re made of, and eliminates frivolous candidacies. Collecting the needed number of signatures means the candidate must have a certain amount of support within the district and some organizational ability, and we want a councilmember who is organized enough to run not just a petition effort but an entire district of Manhattan.

If 11 candidates had a strong enough message or were organized enough to collect the required signatures, they of course deserve a place on the ballot, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this would be the ideal democratic scenario. Voters would have a difficult time distinguishing between so many candidates. There are no runoffs in City Council primaries, so an 11-person field allows for a candidate to win the inside track to the office with possibly less than 15 percent of Democratic primary voters – hardly an overwhelming sign of constituent support.

Moreover, the city’s generous campaign finance matching system, which typically provides $4 in public funds for each dollar donation, can’t work fiscally or practically if anyone can get on the ballot without demonstrating support.

New York’s election-ballot access laws do need reform, but it does make sense to require candidates to demonstrate a minimum level of support before getting on the ballot.

The fact that the Mendez campaign reportedly collected 10,000 of a possible 72,000 signatures in the district did make it harder for other candidates to collect their necessary amount, but that is an indication she may have strong support. There are 10 other candidates who also generated competition for signers. Clearly, the whole process leaves much to be desired. And we certainly oppose any abuse of challenges to knock off candidates who have collected the required amount of signatures.

Ultimately, though, challenges pare down the field in cases where an abundance of candidates are running. We’re all for voters having choices — but we want them to choose between candidates whose message has some support. The rules are the same for everyone, so no one should complain if they can’t meet the minimum threshold required.


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