Spitzer’s Hurdle: Getting on the Ballot

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Eliot Spitzer hopes to shakeup the comptroller’s race this fall with a last minute bid for the Democratic nomination. But first he needs to get on the ballot. That means collecting thousands of signatures and submitting them to the New York City Board of Elections. What exactly needs to happen between now and then? Once the petitions are submitted, is the process complete? Is there any chance Spitzer won’t pull it off?

Here’s a quick breakdown of what stands between Spitzer and the official launch of his comptroller campaign.

So what exactly needs to happen?

Spitzer needs 3,750 registered Democrats to sign his petitions, which the campaign will then submit to the New York City Board of Elections by midnight on Thursday. Candidates already in the race started gathering signatures back on June 4th. Only signatures from registered Democrats in New York City will count, and voters can only sign one Democrat’s petition for comptroller candidate (i.e. if the person already signed Scott Stringer’s petitions, a signature on a Spitzer petition won’t count).

There are millions of registered Democrats in New York City. It doesn’t seem like they have to gather that many signatures.

Technically, it’s not. But collecting valid signatures takes work. Election lawyer Martin Connor said campaigns that started earlier tend to take a more targeted approach by going door-to-door or hiring experienced consultants. He said just walking up to strangers on the street doesn’t yield the best results. “For a lot of people when you ask the question, ‘Are you a Democrat,’ they don't think legally like am I enrolled with the Democratic party with the Board of Elections,” said Connor, who currently works for the Liu campaign. “They think, 'Oh I voted for Obama last year, I'm a Democrat.’”

The Spitzer campaign started Monday by sending staff to subway stops. The campaign also plans to host a petitioning party before the Thursday deadline.

Generally campaigns try to gather well above the minimum number of signatures to show that the campaign has support and momentum. Another reason to have extra signatures this year is that the number of signatures required to get on the ballot under New York State election law is actually double the 3,750 number required by the City Charter, according to State Board of Elections co-chair Doug Kellner.  This is the first municipal election since voters approved the latest changes to the charter.

Kellner said courts have yet to rule on whether New York City actually had the authority to reduce the number of petition signatures required by the Election Law. “Although most are betting that the Charter provision will be upheld, there are some legal arguments against it,” said Kellner.

A spokesman for Stringer campaign said it has collected, "more than 100,000 petition signatures with grassroots volunteers."

Once the petitions are submitted, it’s done, right?

Wrong. Any registered voter in New York City can file a general objection to those petitions by Monday, July 15. Then the person (or campaign) must file specific details of their objection by Monday, July 22. The Board of Elections’ staff will then review the petitions, hold hearings and rule as to whether the candidate has sufficient signatures. Court battles are common.

Ultimately, it may be weeks before voters know if Spitzer’s high-profile campaign launch results in his name on the actual primary ballot.

Is there any chance Spitzer won’t pull it off?

It’s possible. As with the rest of the 2013 election cycle thus far, anything is possible.