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Fighting for rights: Mark Dunlea. Photo by Teri Currie.

Greens See Red

Green Party of New York sues the state elections board to allow voters to register in the party of their choice

Claiming that the state’s current election laws infringe upon voters’ rights, officials from the Green Party of New York State filed a lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections to allow voters to continue to register with their party.

In this year’s gubernatorial elections, the Green Party’s candidate, Stanley Aronowitz, received 41,797 votes. That tally was just shy of the 50,000 votes that state election law requires of gubernatorial candidates for their political party to maintain ballot status. For failing to meet the criteria, New York’s election law also requires that the party’s name be deleted from voter- registration forms. But party officials said that limiting enrollment options in this manner is an infringement upon the rights of voters.

“The state of New York wants to deny voters the right to affiliate with the Green Party despite the fact that we are the third largest political party in the country,” said Mark Dunlea, chairman of the Green Party of New York State. “We feel that there needs to be more democracy in New York, not less. People need to know there are alternatives.”

Further, Dunlea said that since one of the party’s candidates for statewide office, attorney general candidate Mary Jo Long, received over 50,000 votes, voters should still be allowed to register in the state Green Party. On Dec. 13, the Board of Elections received a temporary order barring it from deleting the names of the Green Party’s more than 30,000 registered members. Until a court decides otherwise, voters can still register with the party. But state election officials are questioning the logic of the Green Party’s complaint.

“They are not arguing that they should not be declassified as political parties,” said Lee Deghlian, spokesman for the Board of Elections. “They just don’t want to have their names off the enrollment lists. They want to follow election law on one part and not the other. Is it unconstitutional or not? I guess the judge has to decide that.”

Though 29 states throughout the country track party registration, only three—New York included—fail to allow voters to register in the party of their choice, Dunlea said. The lawsuit contends that these rules were created by the state Legislature’s two-party system and were designed to keep third parties at a disadvantage in the electoral system.

“Voters have a constitutional right under the First Amendment of the federal constitution to join together as a political party,” Dunlea said. “It is illegal that the two major parties use their control of the state Legislature to try to block this.”

Should their lawsuit be dismissed, the Green Party must engage in the all-consuming process of reestablishing itself as a political party and acquiring a ballot line in the 2006 gubernatorial election. The party must collect 15,000 signatures statewide, with at least 100 signatures from half of the state’s 29 congressional districts.

“New York has the most restrictive law as far as forming a political party,” said Dunlea. “It is very time-consuming, and it wastes a lot of resources. If you’re strong enough you qualify, but you lose a lot of energy toward general election.”

New York’s election laws allow candidates to be endorsed by a number of political parties, which some argue allow parties to “piggyback” major candidates to maintain their ballot status. But, Dunlea said, the Green Party presents its own ideological campaign with its own political candidates. This strategy led to difficulties this year, as the Green Party may lose the automatic ballot status it gained in 1998 when its gubernatorial candidate, “Grandpa” Al Lewis (of Munsters fame), received 52,533 votes.

“When [a party] can endorse the Democratic candidates all down the line and win a ballot line,” Dunlea said, “and the alternative party who runs its own ideological campaign and candidate gets booted off the ballot, we find that completely unfair. Filling up the elections with what the Greens don’t consider real political parties provides stark alternatives.”

—Travis Durfee

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