A group of young liberals is spearheading an effort in Brooklyn they believe will not only save lives but also save the electoral process.
On Wednesday, Christina Das, president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats (BYD), planned to check in with Kings County Democratic Party Chairwoman Rodneyse Bichotte, who is also the state Assemblymember of Flatbush, to find out if Bichotte will be swayed by the high-profile politicians who signed BYD’s letter to end ballot petition challenges during the coronavirus lockdown.
During an election year, political candidates must collect a certain number of signatures to appear on the ballot. Often, someone living in the district files a legal challenge to the authenticity of the signatures. BYD and its supporters want the challenges suspended, arguing that defending a challenge right now would endanger the lives of not only the candidates, but also their staff and government workers.
Defending a challenge includes traveling to the Board of Elections (BOE) and courtrooms where several election board staff have contracted the virus and at least three have died working during the outbreak.
Safeguarding the election process
While petition challenges serve a legitimate purpose, responding to them is “an incredible challenge in normal times that’s made much harder in a time of public health concerns,” Max Davidson, a BYD member working on the project, told BKReader.
Davidson said many challenges are based on minor technicalities, such as someone writing a numeral one that looks like a seven in the address block.
“This is also about safeguarding the electoral process,” he stated, adding that candidates in the past have been unfairly kicked off the ballot for frivolous challenges.
In March, Cuomo signed an executive order that reduced the number of signatures candidates must gather during the pandemic. But it’s unclear whether he will also sign an executive order to suspend challenges.
Alternatively, passing legislation in Albany could also get the job done. Getting Bichotte’s endorsement would immensely help the cause, Das said.
“Seeing candidates posting online about their struggles, risking their lives to respond to [ballot petition] challenges prompted us to write the letter,” said Das, a third-year law student at the CUNY School of Law.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney on Tuesday became one of the latest of those politicians to support the movement.
“Both party and state leadership should put an end to these challenges,” the Brooklyn Democrat tweeted on April 7.
Challenging petitions during a public health crisis is not leadership. That's why my campaign was the 1st in #NY12 to pledge not to challenge a single opponent.
— Carolyn B. Maloney (@CarolynBMaloney) April 7, 2020
BYD said it is methodically contacting district leaders to sign the letter, including Darma Diaz who is running for the vacant City Council District 37 seat.
Her campaign filed challenges against opponents. She has declined to sign the letter, Das said.
BKReader reached out to Diaz to get her view. However, the candidate did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
We along with a coalition of Brooklyn elected officials, candidates & Democratic clubs call on Kings Democratic Party and Chair Rodneyse Bichotte to demand Gov Cuomo shutdown petition challenges & candidates rescind filed challenges immediately. This is a matter of life & death. pic.twitter.com/br9ww3XpLF
— Brooklyn Young Democrats (@BKYoungDems) April 4, 2020
So far, signatories include Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-10th District), Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, as well as several state and city elected officials and local district leaders.
While BYD was drafting its letter, the Manhattan Democratic Party announced that it too wants a suspension to challenges.
“This could become a downstate-wide or statewide movement,” said Das.
BYD sent the open letter to Bichotte on April 4 and cc’d Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We are calling on you to demand that Governor Cuomo shutdown all petitioning challenges currently in motion and that all candidates who have already filed challenges rescind them immediately,” the letter stated.
“Simply put, lives will be saved if we end petition challenges immediately. Lives will be lost if we do not end petition challenges. There is no middle ground.”
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