CONFER: Silencing dissent in the Empire State, one party at a time

Bob Confer

On Jan. 2 I received in the mail my annual property tax bills. Though I might complain about the costs and where some of the money is going, I still look at the payment of my taxes as an obligation of citizenship. I like having roads, a sheriff’s department, parks and a judicial system.

Understanding and valuing my role in government made what else I got in that day’s mail a bit frustrating. Along came a postcard from the board of elections. The bearers of bad news, they said that my party enrollment was changed from the Libertarian Party to OTH-LBT.

The “other” designation means that the state of New York no longer recognizes the Libertarian Party as a party. Instead, they look at it as a political movement. Gone is ballot access and all that comes with it.

In essence, my party — just like the Independence and Green parties whose members also received such notifications — was castrated.

This came to be courtesy of revised election law that was hidden in the bowels of the 2020-2021 state budget. In various ways, it threw up roadblocks to third parties that were and could be making inroads in a nation divided.

Under the old rules, a party could achieve ballot access by securing 50,000 votes in the race for governor every four years. The new rules require minor parties to requalify every two years by receiving either 2% of total votes or 130,000 votes in a presidential or gubernatorial race.

Of the minor parties in New York, only the Conservative and Working Families parties remain standing after reaching that criteria in the 2020 election (The Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen garnered 60,000 votes in New York, which would have surpassed the old threshold).

The loss of ballot access makes things very difficult for those who want to break up the status quo. Rather than putting all of their grassroots and administrative efforts into developing ideas, candidates and support, the unqualified parties have to complete a petition process in order to get a candidate listed on the ballot.

Of course, the state made that more difficult, too. It used to take 15,000 signatures. Now, it’s 45,000. Just imagine the roadwork, hustle and hassle that is needed to canvas the state for three times the number of signatures than were needed last year at this time.

Removing ballot access from a party also removes some democratic principles from party members. An unqualified party is unable to have a primary for statewide offices. That means it’s up to party heads to decide who’s running under their title; it’s not up to the people of the party. That not only silences different voices, it can also lead to infighting among the power brokers of the party.

This is all part of the state’s plan.

They want that infighting.

They want alternative ideas to be quieted.

They want the minor parties to be unrecognizable and forgettable.

They want the two-party system to continue its domination.

They want to control every one of us and everything we do.   

The nine-member commission that devised these new rules for the state Legislature was made up solely of Democrats and Republicans, so it’s not the least bit coincidental that it was a commission doing the work of the two parties, not of the many people. If that commission’s very significant policy changes don’t tell you that they think the minor parties could pose a threat to their power, especially now as people seek alternatives to the duopoly than has torn apart the country in ugly ways, then nothing will.

Some will say that’s conspiracy talk, that minor parties are meaningless and can have no positive impact. I could say the same about the major parties. Look around the state. What have Governor Cuomo and his Democratic cronies done to improve our economy’s standing? What did Governor Pataki and his Republican cohorts do to stave off economic decline? Nothing and nothing.

By offering alternatives, third parties could be a means to improve outcomes and to mend a broken New York, a broken America. But, now, they’ll wave to work their tails off more than ever to keep their different ideas and different people front and center.

So, it was with great irony, hypocrisy and intent that we received our tax bills the same day as the mailing about the crippling of those parties. In one way, the state wants — no, demands — us to be good citizens, but, in another way, it’s taking away our ability to do that.

Bob Confer of Gasport is the vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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