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The Editorial Board: Brown’s fight to appear on the ballot is a product of N.Y.’s jumbled voting laws

The Editorial Board: Brown’s fight to appear on the ballot is a product of N.Y.’s jumbled voting laws

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Byron Brown

New York's bizarre election laws are part of the reason Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown won an independent line on November's general election ballot.

From hanging chads to “stop the steal” rallies, there has been enough electoral drama following some recent elections to try the patience of voters and political watchers everywhere.

For the sake of Buffalo residents, let’s hope that’s not the case in the City Hall race between Mayor Byron W. Brown and Democratic nominee India B. Walton. New York State’s absurd election laws have left the door open to uncertainty and legal challenges over whether Brown can have his name appear on the November ballot as the candidate of the independent Buffalo Party. 

On Tuesday, Erie County’s election commissioners, Jeremy Zellner and Ralph Mohr, announced they will appeal the ruling by a federal court last week that put Brown’s name on the ballot. The election board will not appeal a similar decision by a state Supreme Court judge.

Earlier Tuesday, Walton’s campaign filed its own notices of appeal for both courts’ decisions.

The legal wrangling could stretch beyond Election Day.

In the state that gave us fusion voting, cross-endorsements of candidates that allow them to run unopposed and other political gimmickry, it fell to judges to untangle the mess caused by the state Legislature moving up the filing deadline to appear on the ballot to no later than 23 weeks before the Nov. 2 election, or May 25 this year. The previous cutoff was 11 weeks before Election Day, which the Legislature changed in 2019 after the date of the primary was moved from September to June.

Democratic primary voters chose Walton over Brown in a historic upset. The certified vote count was 11,718 for Walton, 10,669 for Brown. Before the primary, it had apparently not occurred to the four-term mayor to file on an independent line. He missed the May deadline by nearly 14 weeks, filing on Aug. 17.

The Erie County Board of Elections on Aug. 27 affirmed that Brown had missed the deadline and would not appear on the ballot. Brown’s lawyers appealed in federal and state court, winning in both last Friday.

U.S. District Judge John L. Sinatra Jr. ruled that the earlier deadline “severely burdens” Brown’s rights. State Supreme Court Justice Paul Wojtaszek decided the state’s deadline was “excessively early” and therefore unconstitutional.

One thing New York’s electoral system does right is not having a so-called sore loser law. Those prevent losers in a primary election from running as an independent or representing another political party in the general election. There are 47 states with some form of them. The laws encourage polarization by making candidates appeal to the voters representing the bases of their parties who dominate primary voting.

We favor election laws that promote moderation and maximum democracy at the polls. Brown clearly did miss the filing deadline, but there is a greater good being served by having him on the ballot and giving all Buffalo voters the chance to decide the election rather than the 20% of registered Democrats who voted in the primary.

The Legislature in effect created its own version of a sore loser law by moving the filing deadline for independents to well before the primary. Lawmakers would have been better off keeping things the way they were rather than meddling in New York’s already convoluted voting laws.

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