New York State’s minor parties scored a major victory Thursday when the state’s Board of Elections agreed to alter a vote-counting anomaly that the parties argued was a threat to their very survival.
In a rare alliance motivated by self-preservation, the Conservative Party, the Working Families Party and the Taxpayers Party sued the board because of a problem involving new electronic voting machines. Computer software allows voters to fill in ovals on electronically scanned paper ballots for the same candidate on more than one party line, although the vote is counted only for the major party that is listed first on the ballot.
While the system did not affect the outcome for any individual candidate, it could have dealt a fatal blow to any minor party, which needs a minimum of 50,000 votes statewide in an election for governor to remain legally recognized for the ensuing four years without having to collect petition signatures each time it fields a candidate. The number of votes also determines the order in which parties appear on the ballot.
Under a consent decree signed approved Thursday by Judge Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan, the board agreed to reprogram voting machines before the 2012 general election to prevent people from voting more than once for the same candidate.
“They have to put a very bold message on the screen that says basically: ‘You voted incorrectly. Your candidate preference is clear, but your party preference is not,’ ” said Daniel Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party. “Then you get to press a button and get your ballot back so you can fix it. Our view is that voters who mean to vote for us will want it to count.”