Board of Elections Engaging in Disenfranchisement

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JAMESTOWN, NY – Recently, the Chautauqua County Board of Elections sent out postcards to all voters enrolled in political parties (Libertarian, Green, Independence, and SAM) that lost ballot access as a result of the 2020 general election.

The postcard indicated in large letters, “YOUR POLITICAL PARTY AFFILIATION HAS CHANGED!” informing voters of those parties that “Your previous party was LIBERTARIAN [or Green, Independence, SAM, etc.) | Your new party is OTHER.” The mailer gives a deadline in order to change one’s party enrollment to one of the 4 major parties (they are not named in the postcard, but they are the Democrat, Republican, Conservative, and Working Families Parties). On the reverse side of the postcard it reads, “Your enrollment has been changed from your previous registration to OTHER.”

A 2005 court order resulting from the Green Party of New York State v. New York State Board of Elections case required the Board of Elections “to record, maintain, and update the enrollment information of voters who have enrolled, or who enroll in the future, in the Green Party or in any of the Intervenor-Plaintiffs so that all registration lists prepared, maintained, distributed, or published by these boards of elections fully reflect, on an ongoing basis, all current and future enrollees in those political organizations and their enrollment information in the same manner as such information is included and reflected for voters who enroll in a “party” that is recognized pursuant to N.Y. Elec. L. § 1-104(3).”

Meaning, the Board of Elections is required to record the affiliation of voters enrolled in a political party not recognized in New York State. The definition of a “political party” in New York State changed in early 2020 when the state budget was passed under the cover of the pandemic. Previously, an unrecognized political party was required to obtain at least 50,000 votes in the gubernatorial election in order to become a recognized political party. In the 2018 election, the Libertarian, Green, Independence, and SAM parties achieved this threshold, guaranteeing recognized party status through the 2022 election. However, the rules changed in 2020, changing the 50,000-vote threshold to 130,000 votes or 2%, whichever is higher. As a result, political parties needed to obtain more than 171,000 votes in the 2020 general election.

“The changes to the definition of a political party came as a result of the Public Campaign Finance Commission created by Governor Cuomo, which was later declared unconstitutional,” said Andrew Kolstee, Chair of the Chautauqua County Libertarian Party. “But that didn’t stop Governor Cuomo from pushing these changes in the state budget in order to kill third parties in New York State.”

“As a result of the changes enacted in the budget, the Libertarian, Green, and Independence Parties were required to garner a vote total over three times the amount of the previous requirement, and doing so while in the middle of a pandemic,” said Kolstee. The SAM Party did not run a presidential candidate.

On December 4, 2020, the New York State Board of Elections directed the County Boards of Elections a memo “to send notices to voters of their change in party status from their prior party to the appropriate ‘OTH’ no later than December 31, 2020.” A sample message was provided that stated “Your enrollment has changed from XX Party to OTH-XX.”

“The New York State Board of Elections violated the 2005 court order,” said Kolstee. “Certainly they can use ‘Other’ as an internal classification to note which parties are recognized and which are not, but to say that a person’s party enrollment as changed is an infringement on their freedom of association.”

Kolstee, who is also the Secretary of the Libertarian Party of New York, notes that the mailers sent to other counties followed the NYSBOE directive. “At the state level, we have received reports that other County Boards of Elections have indicated that an individual’s party has changed from, for example ‘Libertarian/LBT’ to ‘Other-Libertarian/OTH-LBT.’ This was not the case in Chautauqua County. The postcard sent to third party voters in Chautauqua County informed them that their ‘party affiliation has changed,’ which is untrue, as they have stated that they still track voters enrolled in an unrecognized party. However, the postcard that was sent was factually incorrect and a violation of the 2005 court order.”

Kolstee attempted to resolve the issue with the Chautauqua County Board of Elections. “I contacted the Chautauqua County Board of Elections as soon as I received the postcard. I voiced my concerns about the misleading and factually incorrect postcards to Commissioner Norm Green. At first, he admitted the mistake and indicated that they would send a corrected postcard. However, after I sent an email outlining my concerns in writing, they held a virtual meeting of the Board of Elections on January 5, but concluded that they did not do anything wrong, and instead would send out a voter card rather than a correction. This is unacceptable coming from a government agency.”

“Not only that,” said Kolstee, “but I was informed that an elected official enrolled in the Libertarian Party received a letter that said ‘Your party affiliation will not have a line for candidates to run on this fall,’ a blatant assumption that the Libertarian Party will not be running candidates in the fall, despite the fact that the party has run candidates for over 40 years.”

The Libertarian Party of New York and the Green Party of New York are involved in a lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections in an attempt to reverse the unconstitutional changes to the law.

The Chautauqua County Libertarian Party was formed to advance liberty in Chautauqua County and give the people of Chautauqua County another choice. Please like us on Facebook and visit our website at www.chautauquaLP.org. For questions, comments, or more information, contact Andrew Martin Kolstee by e-mail at akolstee@lpny.org or by calling or texting (716) 640-2089.