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Independent Candidate Sues NY Gov Over Petitioning Process

Josh Eisen
Courtesy of Josh Eisen
Josh Eisen

Two independent candidates petitioning to appear on the November ballot in New York say an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo puts them at a disadvantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. One has sued Cuomo, while the other says he will join the lawsuit.

The two candidates say the governor is applying different rules to independents than to party-backed candidates. Josh Eisen, who, at one point, sought to appear on the June Republican primary ballot in New York’s 17th Congressional District, filed suit against Cuomo in early July following the governor’s June 30th executive order that requires independent candidates to collect seven times the number of signatures than party candidates. Eisen says the order contradicts the governor’s otherwise cautious approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And he’s been very, very cautious in almost everything he’s doing, including the petitioning process for school boards, title insurance, titles have been transferred and then title insurance companies have to deal with it,” says Eisen. “There have been notaries that are now being done virtually, and yet the one area where he has been just adamant and very inconsistent is this business of the petitioning process, the handwritten witness petition process in ink, and we believe that obviously there’s an agenda there, and we think that this inconsistency can’t stand, and hopefully a judge will allow us to have some sort of virtual option because, without it, I think too many people are disenfranchised from this process.”

Eisen, who self-funded much of his campaign, faced accusations concerning racism and harassment. He suspended his campaign in early March, saying he was running to ensure there was a GOP candidate, and with other Republicans then in the race, he decided to step aside. Republican Maureen Schulman won the primary over Yehudis Gottesfeld, and she’ll face Democratic primary winner Mondaire Jones. As he campaigns for an independent line in November, Eisen believes he would have three times the number of petition signatures at the moment if it weren’t for the pandemic. He declined to say how many signatures he has thus far.

Gary Greenberg failed to make it on the Democratic primary ballot in New York’s 46th state Senate District, where Michelle Hinchey won the nomination. Greenberg says the pandemic has stymied the usual petition process.

“Well, with the coronavirus, it’s made it much more difficult to go actually out and get signatures, and people won’t answer the doors or they don’t want to handle pens,” Greenberg says.

Governor Cuomo issued an executive order in March that reduced the number of petition signatures for party candidates by 70 percent. Later, on March 30th, Cuomo issued another order suspending all petition circulation for independent candidates because of the pandemic. Now, looking to November, Greenberg says he has about 450 signatures.

“So it doesn’t seem quite fair that independent candidates would have to get more signatures than a party line candidate, especially with the environment that we’re in,” says Greenberg. “So basically, I think he should reduce the amount of signature requirements by the same 70 percent, so that would make it 900 signatures that an independent candidate would need for a state Senate independent line.”

Greenberg says he wrote to Cuomo last week asking that he level the playing field for all candidates and also allow for electronic signing.

“People should be able to go online, and the state Board of Elections could easily set up a website where people could go sign online for candidates,” Greenberg says. “And why New York state hasn’t done that, I don’t know.”

A Cuomo spokesperson did not return a request for comment in time for this broadcast. Eisen welcomes Greenberg’s intent to join the lawsuit.

“I think it’s great for democracy,” says Eisen. “I think it’s great that there’s a lawsuit out there where a Republican and a Democrat are standing together fighting against a system that’s arcane and Byzantine, and hopefully we’ll get results.”

Again, Greenberg:

“I’m optimistic on the lawsuit but I’m hoping the governor takes action on his own,” says Greenberg.”

Eisen hopes the two sides can settle. Cuomo’s June order says petitions must be filed from July 27 through July 30th.

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