The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Wednesday upheld New York’s newly enacted party-qualification requirements, citing the state’s interest in “decluttering its ballots, preventing voter confusion, and preserving the public fisc.”
Only certain political parties qualify to have the names of their chosen candidates for public office on printed election ballots, despite there being dozens of political parties/organizations throughout the US. In the spring of 2020, the state of New York established new threshold requirements for candidates to get their names on ballots: political organizations must now earn “the greater of 130,000 votes or 2% of the vote in elections for President and for Governor to achieve party status and the automatic place on the ballot it confers.” New York previously conferred party status on political organizations winning “at least 50,000 votes in the quadrennial gubernatorial election.”
The Serve America Movement (SAM) Party, one of New York’s eight officially recognized political parties, came into existence in 2018. For a “mix of ideological and practical reasons,” it chose not to participate in the 2020 presidential election. However, it challenged New York’s latest qualification law, alleging the law violates its members’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in that it “unconstitutionally burdens the associational rights of its members and compels their speech.”
The 20-page opinion, written by Circuit Judge Michael Park, affirmed the order of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, which denied the SAM Party’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the party-qualification requirements.
“[T]he presidential-election requirement does not impose a severe burden on the SAM Party,” wrote Judge Park. “It does not compel speech, and New York law provides alternative means for political organizations to compete in elections.”
The court also highlighted an important reason the state instituted the new requirement in the first place: following the 2022 general election, New York will match funds raised by candidates. The state claimed that allowing more minor political parties onto ballots will mean more public dollars spent on “unpopular candidacies.” The court agreed and held that the state’s interest in “not funding hopeless candidates with large sums of public money necessarily justifies the withholding of public assistance from candidates without significant public support.”