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New York just changed how state elections will work. Here’s what you need to know.

November 26, 2019 Paula Katinas
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The New York State Public Finance Commission approved a duo of proposals on Monday that will change how state elections are run.

The first will create a $100 million state-funded public campaign finance system, and the second will change the threshold by which small, grassroots political parties can qualify for the election ballot. The second, in particular, led to an outcry from groups like the Working Families Party. Here’s what you need to know.

Publicly funded campaign finance

The state’s new publicly funded campaign finance system will go into effect in 2026, two years after the next gubernatorial election, and will allow candidates who qualify to receive matching funds.

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Public financing of campaigns involves matching small donations to a candidate in an attempt to counterbalance large donations from special interests. New York City has had a matching funds program since 1988, but that state hasn’t followed suit until now.

Candidates for State Senate and State Assembly can receive matching funds in a 12-1 ratio for every $250 in campaign contributions they receive, as long as the contributions are coming from donors in the candidate’s district. That means an individual donor contributing $250 will result in $3,000 for the candidate.

Candidates for statewide office, such as those running for governor, can qualify for matching funds at 6-1 ratio. Only contributions of $250 or less qualify for matching funds.

The limit on individual campaign contributions that a candidate for governor can receive is $18,000.

Progressive candidates have called for publicly financed campaigns in order to allow more people to run with grassroots support.

“Public campaign financing can level the playing field for people like myself: black women and women of color, grassroots leaders,” Sandy Nurse, who is challenging Assemblymember Erik Dilan in Bushwick next year, told the Eagle earlier this month.

Qualifying as a political party

Under the new system, political parties must garner at least 2 percent of the overall vote in an election in order to secure a line on the ballot in future elections. The parties must meet that threshold every two years.

Under the current system, parties have to receive at least 50,000 votes every four years in a gubernatorial election to maintain ballot status.

The change results in a higher barrier that could eliminate some third parties by forcing them to re-qualify every two years instead of every four years — and the standard will be higher.

The commission’s vote on third parties has been criticized due largely to the fact that smaller parties, like the Working Families, the Independent Party and the Green Party, could have a tougher time staying on the ballot.

“The extreme increase in ballot qualification requirements are a clear abuse of state power to advance the governor’s political agenda,” Bill Lipton, director of the New York chapter of the Working Families Party, said in a statement. “This is a power grab by the governor and his allies to consolidate power and weaken independent progressive organizing.”

The Working Families Party endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rival, actress Cynthia Nixon in the 2018 Democratic Party Primary. After Nixon lost the primary, Cuomo appeared on the Working Families Party line instead.

Jerry Kassar, chairperson of the New York State Conservative Party, also disapproves of the new rules, despite the fact that his party isn’t likely to have much trouble maintaining its ballot line. (The Conservative Party routinely gets at last 2 percent of the vote total in election.)

“The Conservative Party could be the only surviving small party in New York under this proposed, 2 percent threshold, but our principles get in the way of any celebrating,” Kassar said.

Kassar also expressed opposition to the campaign finance system.

“We continue to believe that Gov. Cuomo’s commission lacks the constitutional authority to make law — only a duly elected legislature can do that — and we remain philosophically opposed to taxpayer funded political campaigns,” he said. “This is a classic example of government engineering a crisis and then presenting an impossibly bureaucratic solution to it on the backs of taxpayers.”


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