A state judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by Republican Party operatives in Monroe County that sought to keep 37 Democratic candidates from appearing on the Working Families Party line in upcoming primary and general elections.
The Republicans had alleged that the Working Families Party failed to properly authenticate nominating petitions for candidates it was seeking to cross-endorse.
Their case, filed in state Supreme Court in early April, mirrored those of 13 others filed by Republicans in counties across the state. Eventually, all 14 cases were combined and assigned to State Supreme Court Justice Scott Delconte of Oswego County, who dismissed each of them on technical grounds.
Sharon Cromwell, the deputy state director of the New York Working Families Party, cast the decision as a validation.
“The New York State Supreme Court confirmed what we knew all along: that the GOP’s case doesn’t stand up to the facts,” Cromwell said. “This whole process is a shameless attempt to suppress the voice of voters and interfere with the democratic process. Republicans know that they can’t win at the ballot box, so they’re simply wasting time and money in the courts.”
New York allows for what is known as “fusion voting” or cross-ballot voting, meaning that a candidate can be endorsed by more than one party. The result is that a candidate’s name can appear on the ballot multiple times under multiple party lines -- a potentially worrisome prospect for a challenger who may be relegated to a single party line.
In the cases filed across the state, the Republican plaintiffs sought to oust Democrats in contested races from obtaining a second ballot line with an endorsement by the Working Families Party.
The Republicans had argued that the Working Families Party broke state election law when it electronically cut and pasted signatures intended to validate nominating petitions for specific candidates. The law, they argued, requires that signatures on such documents be original, or what is known as “wet.”
Working Families Party officials maintained that the documents they sent to local boards of election were permissible under a governor’s executive order that allowed documents to be sent electronically during the pandemic.
In dismissing the Monroe County matter on technicalities, Delconte noted that the plaintiffs neglected to name in the lawsuit many candidates the Working Families Party had endorsed but who were in uncontested races. He also stated that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing because they were neither members of the Working Families Party nor candidates entitled to the party’s cross-endorsement.
Delconte wrote, however, that he would have dismissed the 14 lawsuits on their merits anyway, finding that there is no statutory requirement that cross-party nominations contain hand-affixed “wet” signatures.
“To the contrary,” read his decision, “the Legislature has specifically authorized electronic signatures on election-related and other documents through the Electronic Signatures and Records Act.”
In Monroe County, 61 Democratic candidates -- including the 37 named in the lawsuit -- have been cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party. The candidates are running for a variety of local offices, from seats on the County Legislature to offices on suburban town boards in Greece, Henrietta, Perinton, Pittsford, and Webster that were once Republican strongholds but have leaned liberal in recent years.
Mike Barry, a spokesperson for the county GOP, said the party had no plans to appeal the decision, but that leaders will “be leaving our options open.”
Monroe County Democratic Committee Chair Zach King said the outcome was what he and other party leaders had hoped for.
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.