On March 20, candidates across Brooklyn submitted their completed petitions for races from District Leader to State Senator — many of them first-time insurgent candidates working to break down the walls that limit everyday Brooklynites from participating in the borough’s democratic processes.
There are a number of steps that candidates must complete in order to appear on the ballot for an election. First is petitioning, or collecting a minimum number of signatures from citizens who are eligible to vote for the office in question. In theory, meeting that minimum threshold means you qualify for the ballot - however, after turning in petitions and before appearing on the ballot, there’s another step that can make it difficult for grassroots candidates to get on the ballot.
Here, we’ll explain the process to get on the ballot, including objections, or what happens when a candidate’s signatures are challenged after turning in their petitions.
1. Candidates gather the signatures required to qualify to get on the ballot (petitioning).
Depending on the race in which they’re running, candidates have to gather different numbers of valid signatures within the district in which they are running. District Leader candidates, for example, need to collect 500 valid in-district signatures. They have to collect these signatures on petition sheets — which have lots of intricate rules around them — within a stated petitioning window.
Given these intricate rules, many candidates get well above the required number of signatures in case they are challenged - to ensure that even if signatures are disqualified, they will still meet the minimum threshold.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order shortening the petitioning window and reducing the number of signatures required; it ended last Tuesday (3/17). The original deadline was early April. Candidates were required to submit their completed and bound petitions by Friday (3/27). Many candidates, especially those with limited resources, new to the petitioning game, or unaffiliated with political machines scrambled to collect the required number of valid signatures in time.
2. Candidates bind and submit those signatures, on petition sheets, with the Board of Elections.
This year, candidates had just three days to wrap up petitioning and finalize their petition sheets before submitting them — within very technical parameters — by March 20.
3. Anyone can challenge a candidate’s petitions — as long as they are a resident of that candidate’s district — via a general objection.
A general objection is a tool that allows anyone to call into question the validity of a candidate’s submitted petitions, while buying time before having to get specific about what issues they have with the candidate’s petitions. This is an ask for further scrutiny in the hopes that enough petition signatures are thrown out that the candidate no longer qualifies for the ballot. This practice has been long-used by candidates aligned with those already in power, like incumbents and party bosses — to stop insurgents by way of technicalities.
4. After submitting a general objection, the submitter can let it go or can submit a specific objection.
If an objector takes it to this next step and submits a specific objection, they must specify what exactly is wrong with the petitions to which they objected. Examples of these technicalities could be: a signator’s address does not match their BOE record, an address crosses onto two lines, a date or signature is illegible, writing is in pencil or otherwise not in ink, the total number of signatures on the page does not match the total printed at the bottom of the sheet, and more.
So, where are we now with this process?
As of March 24, the general objections filed against candidates are in, and have been made public. The next step would be filing the specific objection by March 30.
Normally, to safeguard against the objections, candidates collect many more signatures than required during the petitioning process. However, the COVID-19 Pandemic shortened the petitioning window and many candidates made the responsible choice to wind down their petitioning operations early. They should not be punished for this choice.
Now, more than ever, it’s important that voters have a choice. Objections should not be used as a tool to limit who appears on the ballot - especially right now, when voters’ attention is focused elsewhere during this pandemic. NKD is calling on candidates to refuse to file or support specific objections to other candidate’s petitions, and give voters the opportunity to choose who represents them.