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Working Families Party Employs Big Name Progressives In Fight To Preserve Ballot Line

N.Y. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren
nrkbeta, Wikimedia Commons; Courtesy N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons
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N.Y. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Minor parties in New York face strict new rules this year to keep their candidates on the ballot without having to resort to petitioning for thousands of signatures. One party, the progressive Working Families Party (WFP), is making an all-out effort to boost votes on their party line.

The left-leaning WFP has employed marquee progressives, like Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential primary candidate Elizabeth Warren, and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to produce videos for social media to convince voters to select the WFP line on the ballot, instead of the traditional Democratic Party line, if they vote for former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris for President and Vice President.

“The ballot line is under attack, and it could go away,” Ocasio-Cortez said in her video. “To save it, we need as many New Yorkers as possible to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket on the WFP line this year.”

Under New York’s election rules, major party candidates can also run on minor party lines. Biden and Harris, along with many other Democrats, will appear on both the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. But not everyone understands that, as Warren explains in the video on social media.

“It counts the same way to get rid of Trump,” Warren says. “And it also strengthens out movement.”

In late 2019, a public campaign finance commission led by Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, ended the requirement that minor party candidates need to attain 50,000 votes on their party’s line every four years in a gubernatorial election in order to automatically qualify for a place on the ballot. Now, the minor parties have to achieve more than double that amount of signatures. Minor parties must get 130,000 to 140,000 signatures depending on the year, or 2% of the total vote count, whichever number is lower. And they have to re-qualify every two years.

Jacobs said at the time that legitimate parties won’t have any trouble meeting that threshold, as protesters questioned that notion.

“We are not looking to target any particular party,” Jacob said, on November 25 last year as some in the audience jeered.

The Working Families Party has had a troubled history with Cuomo, who often claims that he is the “real progressive.” In 2014, the group reluctantly endorsed Cuomo for reelection, after they required the governor to submit a video promising to help fulfill a number of the party’s goals, including working harder to get more Democrats elected to the State Senate. An uncomfortable Cuomo filmed the segment in his basement, and it became known as the hostage video.

In 2018, the Working Families Party endorsed actor Cynthia Nixon for governor, but later endorsed Cuomo when Nixon lost the Democratic primary.

The executive director of the party during the 2019 commission vote accused Cuomo of trying to “kill” the Working Families Party. Current directors Sochie Nnaemeka said there’s no way to know for sure what was in the governor’s mind, but she said it’s “no secret” that the governor and the party have differed on a number of issues.

“We can’t surmise on anyone’s motive,” Nnaemeka said. “But what is clear is that there is no public will or demand to make it harder for people to vote their values and support third parties.

Nnaemeka said she’s confident her party will meet the threshold, and automatically qualify for the next statewide ballot in two years, when the governor’s seat is up for election.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.