As far as state election officials are concerned, the Green Party no longer exists in New York. Of course, the 30,000-odd New Yorkers enrolled in the party may beg to differ, but state election law is clear: If an officially recognized party's gubernatorial candidate fails to get at least 50,000 votes, that party loses its official status. And when the state Board of Elections certified the results of last November's election on December 13, Stanley Aronowitz, the Greens' 2002 candidate for gov, was found to have received only 41,797 votes.
Granted, Greens generally aren't the most status-conscious folks, and party members uninvolved with statewide organizing efforts may not grasp the significance of this loss. ("Who cares if The Man recognizes us or not? We're gonna protest him anyway.")
But losing official recognition makes it much more difficult for party officials to organize their members. For starters, shortly after the final election results are certified, county boards of election throughout the state update their data banks of registered voters. A voter enrolled in a party that failed to reach the 50,000-vote threshold has his or her party affiliation deleted.
This year, gubernatorial candidates representing the Green, Liberal, and Right to Life parties all fell short of the 50,000-vote mark. As a result, citizens who enrolled in any of those parties when they registered to vote become independents in the state's eyes.
Furthermore, new voters do not have the option of enrolling in a party that's not officially recognized by the state. Voter registration forms only contain the names of parties that met the 50,000-vote requirement in the preceding gubernatorial election, and New York's forms, unlike those of some other states, do not offer registrants a blank line to write in their preferred party affiliation.
The upshot: Officials of parties without state recognition have no way of identifying --- and, subsequently, contacting and organizing --- party members by searching up-to-date state records of registered voters.
Anticipating that Aronowitz would fall short of the 50,000 mark, the New York Greens filed suit in federal court in Brooklyn on December 10, asking a judge to bar the state Board of Elections --- and, by extension, the county boards --- from disenrolling Green Party members. The suit also sought to keep the Green Party listed on voter registration forms.
The Greens, represented by lawyers from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, argued that New York State's election law is unconstitutional, in that it prevents citizens from exercising their First Amendment right to express their political views through affiliation with a particular political party.
On December 13, Judge John Gleason imposed a temporary restraining order on the boards, preventing them from deleting the party affiliations of Green, Liberal, and Right to Life party voters at least until a preliminary injunction hearing is held on January 16. Until that time, new voters will also be allowed to register as members of one of those three parties.
State Green Party chair Mark Dunlea is optimistic his party's suit will ultimately be successful. "You don't win a temporary restraining order unless the judge believes you're likely to prevail on the merit of the case," Dunlea says.
As the Greens see it, there's no justifiable reason for the state to wipe their party off the official political map. After all, the Federal Election Commission recognizes New York's Green Party as an official entity (Ralph Nader, the Greens' 2000 presidential candidate, received over 244,000 votes in New York) and recognizes the Green Party of the United States as the national committee of a political party. In addition, one of the Greens' other candidates for statewide office, attorney general contender Mary Jo Long, did surpass the 50,000-vote mark --- by 755 votes.
As defendants in the suit, the state Board of Elections is merely "representing the state as the law stands," says spokesman Lee Daghlian. Daghlian also says the judge's order "does not in any way affect the fact these are no longer parties and that they've lost the [ballot] line."
In order to regain their ballot line, the Greens would have to do what they did in 1998, when Al Lewis, a.k.a. Grampa Munster, ran as their candidate for governor: gather at least 15,000 signatures from registered voters statewide and run a candidate in the 2006 gubernatorial election who receives over 50,000 votes.
Dunlea says the Greens will mount another lawsuit early next year, challenging the 50,000-vote threshold. Among the issues in that case will be the circumstances in which that threshold was established --- it was doubled from 25,000 votes in 1935 in an effort, Dunlea suspects, to discredit the Communist Party, which lost its status in New York shortly after the change.
Are the Greens being victimized by an electoral system designed by the two major parties? Dunlea thinks so. Daghlian doesn't.
"One thought about all of this is it's not unfair until they don't make the 50,000 threshold," Daghlian says. "The point is, if they were popular enough and had enough support, they would have gotten those 50,000 votes, and they just didn't get it."