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Erie County Libertarians knocked off ballot after nomination certificates invalidated

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

Libertarians finally gained automatic ballot access in New York state last year, but you won’t see any Libertarians on the ballot for Erie County races this November.

The Erie County Board of Elections invalidated the entire party line’s certificates of nomination earlier this month, saying there were deficiencies on the forms that violate state election law.


Four of the 18 would-be Libertarian nominees challenged the Board of Elections in a validation proceeding Wednesday, but state Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita III upheld the decision, saying the Board of Elections simply followed state election law. 

Erie County Libertarian Party Chairman Duane Whitmer told WBFO the deficiencies were technicalities that should have not been held against the party. He alleged Erie County Democrats and Republicans conspired to knock Libertarians off the ballot.


“This is an example of the two parties coming together and suppressing the third parties,” he said after Wednesday’s court proceeding. “They have the time and resources. The (elections) commissioners are paid $120,000 a year in taxpayer funds to make sure that third parties can’t compete.”


Whitmer specifically accuses Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner, who’s faced renewed criticism in recent months for also serving as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee. 


Zellner was represented in court Wednesday by Second Assistant County Attorney Jeremy Toth, who called the accusations “outrageous.”


“There was no underhanded tricks like petitioners always complain about when they screw up their own paperwork — and that’s all that happened here,” Toth told WBFO. “The commissioners have to follow the law, and the paperwork that was put in front of them was filled with mistakes.”


Erie County Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said Libertarians met most of the requirements under state election law 6-128, which deals with new party’s certificates of nomination, but did not meet two of what he called the most important requirements: a certified copy of the party’s rules and sworn affidavits from party officials.


Mohr previously met with Libertarian Party officials to show them what was wrong with their certificates, and even gave them a copy of a correct certificate to follow. However, he said the forms were still not valid when the party submitted them a second time.


The deadline to submit validated certificates of nomination was Sept. 3.


Mohr, who has been elections commissioner for 24 years, said it’s the first time he can remember a new party’s entire line being taken off the ballot in Erie County.


“That’s one of the reasons why the Board of Elections in this case went out of its way to attempt to assist the Libertarian Party in filing proper certificates of nomination,” he said.


At least one of the would-be Libertarian nominees agrees. Carrie Christman, who is the campaign manager for Libertarians’ Buffalo Common Council nominee James Kistner, puts the blame on Libertarian Party officials.


“(The Board of Elections) went above and beyond reaching out to assist this (party), and they failed to step up to the plate and take care of it,” she said.


Many of the 18 would-be Libertarian nominees are already cross-endorsed by the Republican Party, like county executive candidate Lynne Dixon, but some like Kistner were counting on their Libertarian nomination to get on the ballot.


Aside from Kistner, the other three Libertarian nominees to challenge the invalidation were college student Scott Wilson, who is running for Buffalo city comptroller, and incumbent Hamburg Town Councilmen Tom Best and Michael Mosey. 


Best and Mosey lost in the Republican primary in June, but will appear on the ballot on the Conservative Party line.


Those involved believe Erie County is the only county in the state where Libertarians were completely knocked off the ballot this election cycle.


The Libertarian Party of New York State gained automatic ballot status after Libertarian Larry Sharpe earned more than the required 50,000 votes in last fall’s gubernatorial race.


Libertarians account for about 0.10% of registered voters in New York, according to the state Board of Elections. That also goes for Erie County, where just 775 of the 638,300 registered voters are Libertarians.


Whitmer said he’s unsure whether any of the county’s would-be Libertarian nominees will now appeal Sedita’s decision in state appellate court, but hopes they’ll still get support either on other party lines, or as write-in candidates. 


“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “The (Erie County Libertarian Party) isn’t going anywhere. The Libertarian Party of New York State isn’t going anywhere. We’re still going to fight. We refuse to be suppressed. We refused to be pushed away.”


Election Day is Nov. 5.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.