State’s minor parties await fate under new election rules

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Who’s going to occupy the White House for the next four years? It’s likely as you read these words, no call in this year’s presidential election has been made.

But for some, the focus on New York’s votes for Joe Biden isn’t on whether he won or lost, but more on which political party the former vice president was chosen from.

While Democrats and Republicans aren’t going anywhere, the state’s six other minor political parties face eviction from future ballots if they don’t record at least 130,000 votes selecting candidates from their party.

The more traditional third parties continued with their own candidates — like Howie Hawkins for the Green Party and Jo Jorgensen for the Libertarian Party. However, both the Working Families and Conservative parties nominated Biden and Donald Trump instead.

Because New York operates under a fusion voting system, all votes collected from various parties for a single candidate are pooled together for that single candidate.

That means any vote for Biden or Trump — no matter which party column it comes from — will count toward their overall totals.

It’s confusing, even for diehard New Yorkers, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi admits. But this is where education is key.

“The fact that people don’t understand makes sense to me,” Biaggi said last weekend during a Working Families rally near IN-Tech Academy’s early voting site.

“But then it’s our responsibility to educate. That’s our job. And that’s why we’re here, to educate and to continue to spread awareness.”

Before this year, minor parties only needed to secure 50,000 votes in gubernatorial races to stay on the ballot. That changed this year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed a new law during the state budgeting process that nearly tripled that voting threshold, and added the requirement to include presidential elections as well. Many voters tend to simply select their presidential candidates from the Democratic or Republican columns, but state Sen. Gustavo Rivera couldn’t emphasize how important it was to support New York’s minor political parties.

“There are immense benefits to having the party around,” Rivera said. “The WFP has been at the core, consistently moving, tugging, pushing, nudging the Democratic Party as a whole — and the Democratic politicians in particular — to make sure they take positions that are more aligned with what working class people need across the state.”

That includes rebuilding New York’s tax coffers by raising levies on the rich, implementing higher minimum wage across the state, and ensuring funding for schools is fair.

“Their presence has consistently been  thorn in the side of people who like to call themselves Democrats,” Rivera said, “but (they) are not true Democrats.”

Working Families wasn’t alone encouraging voters to choose its candidate. Conservative Party chair Gerard Kassar was pushing the same thing — enticing Republican voters to choose President Trump through his party’s column instead.

“We are a party with a proud history,” Kassar told party members in a newsletter last week. “We have elected a U.S. Senator on our line alone, and we continue to be the margin of victory for candidates around the state of New York.”

Conservatives backed then little-known Long Island politician Al D’Amato in 1980, defeating the more moderate Republican incumbent Jacob Javits in that year’s primary.

“We are a small party, but we play a major role in getting conservative Republicans elected,” Kassar said.

But he’s not too worried about meeting the 130,000 threshold. More than 292,000 votes were cast in the Conservative column in 2016, and Kassar hopes this year those numbers hit 300,000 “sending a clear message to Gov. Cuomo that New Yorkers want a choice.”

Jamaal Bowman, who was expected to easily win his general election race and succeed Eliot Engel in the U.S. House of Representatives, said supporting parties like Working Families provides local empowerment that the larger parties don’t always provide.

“The Bronx is no longer burning. The Bronx is building,” Bowman said, outside of IN-Tech last weekend. “There are too many people who have lost faith in our political system, and rightfully so because they’ve been neglected, marginalized, and oppressed and forgotten about.

“This is a democracy. Democracy cannot work if we have this level of economic inequality. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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