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Working Families Party employs big-name progressives in fight to preserve ballot line

Working Families Party

Minor parties in New York face strict new rules this year to keep their candidates on the ballot without having to resort to petitioning for thousands of signatures, and one is making an all-out effort to boost votes on its line.

The left-leaning Working Families Party has employed marquee progressives, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to produce videos for social media to convince voters to select the WFP line on the ballot, instead of the traditional Democratic Party line, if they vote for former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris for president and vice president.

“The ballot line is under attack, and it could go away,” Ocasio-Cortez says in her video. “To save it, we need as many New Yorkers as possible to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket on the WFP line this year.”

Under New York’s election rules, major party candidates can also run on minor party lines. Biden and Harris, along with many other Democrats, will appear on both the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. But not everyone understands that, as Warren explains in her video distributed on social media.

“It counts the same way to get rid of Trump,” Warren says. “And it also helps strengthen our movement.”

In late 2019, a public campaign finance commission -- led by Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, a close ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- ended the requirement that minor party candidates need to attain 50,000 votes on their party’s line every four years in a gubernatorial election in order to automatically qualify for a place on the ballot.

Now, the minor parties have to achieve more than double that amount of signatures: 130,000 to 140,000 are now required, depending on the year, or 2% of the total vote count, whichever number is lower. They also have to requalify every two years.

Jacobs said at the time that legitimate parties wouldn’t have any trouble meeting that threshold, as protesters questioned that notion.

“We are not looking to target any particular party,” Jacob said on Nov. 25, 2019, as some in the audience jeered.

The Working Families Party has had a troubled history with Cuomo, who often claims that he is the “real progressive.” In 2014, the group reluctantly endorsed Cuomo for reelection after they required the governor to submit a video promising to help fulfill a number of the party’s goals, including working harder to get more Democrats elected to the State Senate. An uncomfortable Cuomo filmed the segment in his basement, and it became known as the “hostage video.”

In 2018, the Working Families Party endorsed actor Cynthia Nixon for governor, but later endorsed Cuomo when Nixon lost the Democratic primary.

The executive director of the party during the 2019 commission vote accused Cuomo of trying to “kill” the Working Families Party. Sochie Nnaemeka, the current director in New York, said there’s no way to know for sure what was in the governor’s mind, but said it’s “no secret” that Cuomo and the party have differed on a number of issues.

“We can’t surmise on anyone’s motive,” Nnaemeka said. “But what is clear is that there is no public will or demand to make it harder for people to vote their values and support third parties.”

Nnaemeka says she’s confident that her party will meet the threshold and automatically qualify for the next statewide ballot in two years, when the governor’s seat is up for election.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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