By Carl Campanile March 10, 2020 ( Via NY Post )
Better sanitize the pen!
Fear of the coronavirus could wreak havoc on New York’s democracy by hampering petitioning efforts to get on the ballot, legislators and election lawyers say.
One lawmaker from Westchester County — the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Empire State — has drafted legislation to slash the number of signatures required for Assembly and Senate incumbents and challengers to get on the ballot by a third.
“I learned from my campaign manager, Wendi Paster, that a couple of my volunteers, and a friend from another part of Manhattan, reported quite a few people refusing to sign petitions, saying things like they didn’t want to touch the pen,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who represents Manhattan’s West Side and will co-sponsor the measure.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) — whose district includes hard-hit New Rochelle, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered locked down Tuesday — said some party workers don’t want to carry petitions because they worry about contracting the virus.
“I don’t want to feel responsible for someone going door to door and getting exposed to the virus,” Paulin said. “Some people have called me and said they are worried.”
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Nader Sayegh (D-Yonkers), said it’s become difficult to collect signatures as voters choose to “self-isolate” and refuse to answer the door for candidates or their petition gatherers.
The proposed law would apply the lower signature count requirements to cover any county where there is at least one confirmed case of the coronavirus. The petition collection period started on Feb. 25 and the petitions must be submitted to the state Board of Elections by April 2.
Assembly candidates currently must collect 500 valid signatures from voters enrolled in their political party, while state Senate candidates have to find 1,000 valid signatures and congressional candidates need even more — 1,250 signatures. But there are typically interactions with five to 10 times more people to meet the threshold, campaign experts said.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has grown exponentially since the first case was confirmed just over a week ago in New York State. In my home county of Westchester, the number has grown from 1 on Tuesday, March 3rd to 98 on Monday, March 9th. While the health of our residents is of eminent importance, this outbreak has had far-reaching implications on daily life throughout impacted communities like ours,” Sayegh wrote in a letter urging fellow Assembly members to sign on to his bill.
Cuomo announces new coronavirus cases in NY, warns number will rise
He noted that local schools and small businesses have closed out of an “abundance of caution.”
One election lawyer, Sarah Steiner, said Albany should consider going even further and cutting the number of voter signatures required to get on the ballot by as much as two-thirds.
Steiner, who represents 10 candidates throughout the city, also noted that many of the best Democratic Party petition gatherers are older citizens in their 60s and 70s who know where the most reliable voters reside. These senior citizens are more vulnerable to exposure to the coronavirus.
“No one wants anyone to get sick. The Legislature should draft an emergency bill and cut down the number of signatures required to get on the ballot,” Steiner said. “They should do it across the board.”
But the chairmen of the Assembly and Senate election committees reacted warily to changing the signature requirements in the middle of the petition period.
“We’re not in a situation where everyone is quarantined. You should not carry petitions if you’re not feeling well,” cautioned state Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn).