How Do Presidential Candidates Land a Spot on the New York Primary Ballot?

Check out more photos from the Bernie Sanders march in NYC on January 30, 2016.EXPAND
Check out more photos from the Bernie Sanders march in NYC on January 30, 2016.
Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice

Monday was the day that many a presidential hopeful — and their loyal campaigners — had been waiting for: the Iowa caucuses.

Ted Cruz trumped The Donald on the Republican side, while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ran neck and neck, with Clinton narrowly pulling ahead with a reported 49.9 percent to Sanders's 49.6. 

In the days leading up to the caucuses, campaigners rallied to make sure their candidates stood out for the Midwestern showdown — but in New York, there was a sense of urgency for the Sanders campaign. 

New York has closed primaries, meaning that voters must be preregistered for one party or another and may only vote for their party-affiliated candidates. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eleven states have closed presidential primaries or caucuses. Another eleven hold open primaries or caucuses, in which voters can cross party lines and vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. The rest of the states operate with hybrids that use a combination of voting procedures. 

So what are each candidate's chances of seeing his or her name on the ballot? 

In order to get onto the primary ballot for the April 19 vote, Democratic presidential candidates are on the hook for at least 5,000 signatures from registered voters (the signature threshold is one of three options for Republican candidates looking to get onto the ballot).

While 5,000 signatures doesn't sound like a lot — compared with the kinds of voter turnout numbers the nation will see in November — it's both an important and potentially difficult number to hit. Candidates were able to start accumulating signatures on designation petitions starting on December 29, 2015. From there, they had a month to garner as many signatures as possible before the deadline to submit petitions to the State Board of Elections between February 1 and 4, 2016. Just today, the Board of Elections posted its first round of candidate filings for the 2016 New York Presidential Primary. Two days into the collection period for petitions, Clinton is the only one on the list, having officially filed 3,840 pages of signatures and a list of chosen delegates on February 1.

The more signatures a candidate gets, the better. A higher volume of names can be a statement to voters at large while also ensuring that if legitimacy concerns arise with any of the signatures (for instance, if someone signs a petition but isn't officially registered with that party), there will still be enough left to make it past the threshold.

According to Michael Blecher, a Sanders campaign volunteer, there have been hurdles involved in getting the Vermont senator enough signatures to get onto the ballot. Blecher claims that it's easier for candidates like Clinton to get their signatures thanks to their longstanding affiliations with Democratic clubs. He also says that Sanders's team has more or less gone straight to the people — asking for signatures from folks on the street and at organized events around New York City.

Blecher told the Village Voice that he estimates Clinton's supporters are aiming for 50,000 signatures — so the Sanders team is seeking 100,000 for the Bern. 

A couple of days before the thousands-strong march for Sanders from Union Square to Zuccotti Park on January 30, some of his supporters took over a watering hole in Manhattan to get signatures for their candidate. 

In the Voice video below, meet the New Yorkers, including Blecher, working to get Sanders onto the New York primary ballot.

Video production by Anna Hiatt for the Village Voice

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