Harris Beach attorneys recently successfully persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to deny review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to uphold the constitutionality of 2020 New York State election reforms that were passed to improve ballot integrity and voter confidence.
In a closely watched case that has attracted significant media attention, partners Tom Garry, Elliot Hallak, Kyle Gooch, Dan LeCours, and Brian Ginsberg achieved a major victory on behalf of the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE).
In 2020, the New York state legislature passed a variety of election reforms that adjusted the levels of support political organizations and candidates for statewide offices must receive (in the form of votes or petition signatures) in order to obtain a spot on the general election ballot.
Pursuant to the reforms, a political organization can qualify as a “party,” and thus gain the ability to place a candidate of its choice on the general-election ballot, if, at the last general election (whether presidential or gubernatorial), the organization’s candidate received at least 130,000 votes (which is less than one percent of the registered voters in New York) or two percent of all votes cast, whichever is greater.
Additionally, in order for a candidate to petition onto the ballot, he or she must obtain 45,000 signatures for any statewide election (which is less than 1/3 of 1% of the registered voters in New York), or the number of registered voters equal to one percent of all votes cast at the last gubernatorial election — whichever is less. For nearly a century prior to the reforms, these thresholds had been significantly lower, notwithstanding dramatic increases over time in the population of eligible voters.
Shortly after the reforms were enacted, the Libertarian Party of New York, the Green Party of New York, the Working Families Party, the SAM Party, and several of those organizations’ officers and candidates, sued the NYSBOE in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, challenging the party-qualification and ballot-access updates as unconstitutional on the ground they impermissibly disadvantaged so-called “third parties.” Tom, Elliot, Kyle, and Dan handled the NYSBOE’s defense from the case’s inception. They scored victory after victory, obtaining a series of well-reasoned decisions from the district court and the Second Circuit upholding the reforms and finding that they comfortably passed constitutional muster.
The Libertarian Party plaintiffs and Green Party plaintiffs then petitioned for review in the U.S. Supreme Court, and Brian — a member of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group and veteran Supreme Court practitioner — joined the team. Together, the Harris Beach attorneys produced a comprehensive brief in opposition to the plaintiffs’ petition explaining why the lower-court decisions were correct on the law and why, for additional reasons, the case was not a compelling candidate for one of the scarce spots on the Supreme Court’s discretionary docket. The Court sided with the Harris Beach arguments, denying review and putting an end to the case.
“We are gratified the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari and declined to disturb the well-reasoned decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upholding New York’s long-overdue election reforms that adjusted the levels of support that political organizations and candidates for statewide offices must receive in order to obtain a spot on the general election ballot,” Brian said. “For nearly a century, the support thresholds were disproportionately low compared to the ever-increasing population of eligible voters, such that ballot lines were taken up by candidates and organizations that lacked any plausible chance of winning their elections. The 2020 reforms helped restore proportionality and ensure that ballots will be occupied by candidates and organizations possessing meaningful levels of support from the electorate. That objective is entirely consistent with the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court’s certiorari denial reflects.”