NYC Primary Candidates Say Getting Voter Signatures is Unsafe During Pandemic

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Mark Levine, the City Council’s health committee chairman, said distributing coronavirus vaccine to city residents to reduce infection rates should take priority over campaign petitioning. Photo Credit: nyc.gov

By Hellen Zaboulani

Primary elections are coming up in New York City and the petitioning requirements to get candidates onto the ballots have become a matter of debate.   Candidates running for public offices are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to waive laws which require the collection of voter signatures, calling it unsafe amid the pandemic.

As reported by the NY Post, some 300 candidates have filed to run for 51 council seats, there are roughly 20 candidates running for mayor, and more trying to get their names on the ballot for comptroller and borough president.  Currently the law states that in order to be added onto the ballot as a candidate for mayor 7,500 valid party signatures are required. For the post of borough president, 2,000 signatures are currently required, down from the originally mandated 4,000 signatures.  Council members need 450 signatures, down from the previously required 900.

Candidates are urging the governor to override the requirements, claiming the petitioning would warrant tens of thousands of non-socially distanced interactions, and be unsafe.  The petitioning for primary elections would run from Feb. 23 to April 1, 2021.

Last year, petitioning for NYS legislative races began as the Coronavirus pandemic first struck. Lawmakers and candidates had raised similar concerns and said that knocking door to door for signatures was a safety hazard and that voters were refusing to sign.  In July, Cuomo had approved an emergency order shortening the petitioning period and reducing signature requirements for the legislative and congressional races.

Corey Ortega, who is running for a vacant council seat in Northern Manhattan, said that petitioning for voter signatures now with the new more contagious strain of the virus, would be crazy.  He claims that he caught COVID-19 last year while collecting signatures for another candidate.  “I had to go to the emergency room. I had trouble breathing. I was scared out of my mind,” Ortega said.

“You’re not socially distancing when you gather signatures,” said Election lawyer Lawrence Mandelker.  “There’s going to be a lot of political pressure to lower the number of signatures to collect or do away with signatures entirely. But what do you replace it with? How do you measure a candidate’s support?”  Ortega suggested using campaign contributions to evaluate support to determine ballot eligibility.

Cuomo spokesman Peter Ajemian responded, “As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to closely monitor the transmission rate and other data and will make adjustments accordingly to ensure our democratic process proceeds as safely as possible.‎”