How Do You Get on The Ballot in New York State?

Time to read
11 minutes
Read so far

How Do You Get on The Ballot in New York State?

July 10, 2012 - 08:32


As both an attorney and elected official, people often ask me about the process to get on the ballot to run for public office in New York State. Most people seem to think that a candidate gets endorsed at a political convention, but that is only partly true. While candidates do seek the endorsement of political parties at local or county conventions, that endorsement only means that the district leaders for that political party will support you and help you get on the ballot (which is very important).

However, unless you are running for state-wide office (senator, governor, attorney general or comptroller, who are nominated at state conventions), you must obtain signatures on "designating petitions." This is the requirement for congress, state legislature, county legislature or local city and town elections (but not villages or supreme court). We are in the final week to collect signatures on designating petitions for New York's six established parties -- Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Working Families, Independence and Green. As a matter of fact, I walked my neighborhood this past Sunday night and collected signatures.

What do I mean by designating petitions? New York State Election Law sets forth the required procedures to collect the signatures on the designating petitions and to get on the ballot -- see NYS Election Law Sections 6 - 118, 120, 122, 130, 132, 134, 136, 144 & 146. The Election Law requires candidates to obtain signatures of 5% of the registered voters in the district from the political party whose line they seek. Most candidates try to get about 10% to avoid any legal challenges. Therefore, since the first week of June, volunteers for candidates of all political parties have been ringing door bells and asking voters to sign designating petitions that will get candidates on the ballot, and this Thursday is the deadline to file these petitions with the Board of Elections.

For example, last year I needed about 375 signatures to run for re-election to the Westchester County Board of Legislators on the Republican line, and we were pleased to file more than 700 signatures.

If you are a registered voter in a political party and meet the 5% signature requirement from members of that party, you are on the ballot. If more that one candidate files petitions for a particular seat, they will face-off in a primary in mid-September. For candidates without primaries, they go straight to the November election.

What about seeking the lines of parties for which you are not a member? If you wish to run with a party line besides your own, you must meet the 5% signature requirement, as well as get permission from that party to run on its line.

And if you think your opponent's designating petitions do not contain enough proper signatures to meet the required number, you can try to knock out those petitions with a legal challenge.

Every candidate across party lines can agree on one thing –- they are incredibly thankful for the great volunteers that have been carrying these designating petitions over the past six weeks. Many dedicated people have worked diligently to get candidates on the ballot for this November -- so that voters have a real choice on Election Day. I have been carrying petitions for about twenty years now and am happy to report that most people are friendly in the doorway (but yes, there are a few cretins who are rude or too "busy" to participate in democracy). Thanks so much to all the wonderful volunteers carrying the petitions and to the helpful voters who signed them -- you all play an important role in our democratic electoral process. Best of luck to all the candidates this year (especially the ones I am supporting)!

Jim Maisano 75pxJames Maisano, Esq. is a practicing attorney who also serves on the Westchester Board of Legislators. Check out Jim’s website at, and you can also find this post on his Legal Blog (please see disclaimer on the Legal Blog). Jim’s law office can be contacted at [email protected] or (914) 636-1621

There are 14 Comments

Martin Sanchez's picture

So Jim, how does one proceed to have a recall election of a muncicipal official, say, a Mayor?

Westchester County Legislator Jim Maisano's picture

As far as I know Martin, there is no recall provision under state election law.


There are ways, under NY Election Law, that an elected official can be declared disqualified by the NY Supreme Court, removed from office, with a Special Election resulting. However, unless that removed elected official requalifies, that person would not be able to run in that Special Election. That's about as close as one can get to something similar to a recall election.

I think what Martin is looking for, is the means to disqualify an elected official.

If an elected official fails to take the oath of office, or clearly violates it, that could be disqualifying.

If an elected official does not live within the district represented, that is definitely disqualifying. This could occur due to redistricting, or due to the official moving out of the district.

An elected official might choose to move out of that office's district, in order to run for another office. As an example, for a Mayor to move to another municipality, in order to run in a Congressional District other than that of the municipality represented by that Mayor. That would nullify that Mayor's tenure.

A roundabout way to cause a recall, would be to change the Municipal Charter via referendum. If the Public Office was redefined to a shorter term, effective to the last election, it could cut the tenure of the Public Officer.

If there was a referendum to change from an Appointed City Manager, to an Elected Executive Mayor; and at the same time the Mayor is to no longer be a Legislator or on the City Council; with an additional City Council District to keep an odd number of legislators: this could result in a Special Election for Mayor, and for a new City Councilmember or perhaps for the entire City Government.

Such a referendum occurred in 1991. The part about changing from City Manager to Executive Mayor, failed to pass. I'm unsure if it would have affected the Mayor's tenure if it had passed, but the referendum was written by a Commission created by then-Mayor Paduano, yet it is Tim Idoni who would have benefitted.

But as a result of that referendum, the City Councilmembers tenure ended prematurely, because they had all been elected At-Large. A Special Election occurred after a second referendum, whose issue, I believe was to determine the number of Council Districts, but there may have been other issues.

I am mystified if Martin thinks there could be a successful recall of our current Mayor, so he must be thinking of another municipality. Noam Bramson was reelected Mayor by about 80% of the vote, less than a year ago. Proportionally, that represented Bramson receiving all the votes except for the 20% of New Rochelle voters registered as Republican.

But changing the City Charter could shake up City Hall. We need to create a government of three branches, instead of the un-American concept of appointing a City Manager as Chief Executive, by the legislative City Council. We need a City Council entirely consisting of Councilmembers representing Districts.

Passing such a referendum would not only benefit New Rochelle, but would provide greater control of our government by the People. It would also create the necessary tension between the Legislators and the Elected Chief Executive.

A referendum can be created by the City Council, or by a Charter Commission appointed by the Mayor, or by a Petition of the Citizens. All three methods were tried in the late-1980's thru early 1990's.

I've promised Warren Gross, I'd find copies of the referendums I have. I think I have one from about 1987, which was a failed petition. I won't go into the nature of the failure. I have yet to find the copy I have, but I am sure I do have it. Sorry about the delay, Warren.

I also probably have a copy of Mayor Paduano's referendum of 1991. That one should be in the records of the City Clerk, NR Library, and perhaps the NYS Sec of State.

Good people, please keep away from personal attacks on politicians, and stick to the issues. Consider also, to be careful of what you wish for, because you might get it, but with unforeseen factors. It is much healthier, and ultimately socially and politically better to improve the structure of our government, rather than to make it about personalities.

In a Village in Westchester, who may obtain signatures of registered Village voters for an Independent party? (not the Independence party). Does that person have to be a notary? Can a Judicial candidate obtain signatures for other Trustee candidates for that Independent line when none of the candidates are party members of that Independent line? Please help! Thank you.

As I recall, the main way to get a new political party on the ballot is to do it state-wide in a gubernatorial election, and to receive at least 50,000 votes, with votes in all counties. Successfully doing that, established that political party as one recognized by NY State for the next four years. I might be slightly off on the law, but it close to what I have described

But you run a person or persons for office, independently of political parties, by petitioning as non-affiliated, either state-wide as described in the previous paragraph, or locally as described by yourself.

To run non-affiliated, any voter registered within the contested district can witness a petition or sign a petition. The signees and witnesses can themselves be unaffiliated or affiliated with a political party.

Or the Petition can be witnessed by a Notary. But as always, a signee cannot witness their own signature on the same petition, and needs another witness for one's own signature.

There is a catch, and in my opinion, quite in violation of the 14th Amendement. Anytime a person signs a petition for a single office, that person's signature is null on any later-signed petitions for the same single office.

But NYS Election Law insists on giving recognized political parties a few weeks head start on petitioning. So the political parties are given that unfair, unconstitutional advantage by having first run a candidate for Governor as described in my first paragraph.

Another undemocratic aspect of NYS Election Law, is that if running with a recognized party, one only needs signtures representing 5% of the voters in that office's district registered to that party.

But a person running unaffiliated needs 5% of ALL voters registered in that office's district.

In all cases there are also minimum numbers of signatures needed, that may represent less than 5%.

Circumstances differ in various municipalities. In New Rochelle, with about 40,000 voters, approximately 20% are Republican, while about 51% are Democrat. As a result it takes less than half as many signatures for a Republican to get on the ballot. An unaffiated candidate would need more signatures than a Republican, but less than a Democrat. But a Democrat or Unaffiliated Candidate might succeed with less signatures than 5%. For County Legislator, either 5% or 500 signatures suffice, whichever is less. For a Democrat to run against Jim Maisano, 500 signatures would suffice, although less than 5%, whereas Jim Maisano needed 5% Republican signatures, which is less than 500.

I believe the flat minimum number of signatures is a greater number for unaffiliated candidates than for affiliated candidates, for most offices. I also consider this in violation of the 14th Amendment.

If an Unaffilated Candidate's petition succeeds, I believe that candidate can assign a Party Name and Logo to appear on the ballot. However, except for a candidate for Governor, that Party Name is only established for that candidate's ballot and only for that one General Election. Obviously, an Unaffiliated Candidate would not be in a Primary.

Westchester County Legislator Jim Maisano's picture

Thanks for helping me with the answers Brian. I am in the middle of writing a brief on a case right now, but when done will also try to help Jeberama.



Please do correct any errors I have might have made in describing petitioning. No one is going to be doing any election petitioning at least until 2013, but the questions were asked now, so I reponded. When you have a chance to respond in detail, you will be doing a good deed for everyone.

You and I share a love of democracy. NYS Election Law is unfriendly towards electoral politics outside of (and within) the Democratic and Republican Parties. It is one of the main reasons that our government in Albany tends to be dysfunctional no matter who's elected Governor, or elected to the NY Senate or Assembly.

At least NYS Election Law is better than it was 20 years ago, prior to which the NY Supreme Court used to ignore the Election Law and run roughshod over all Petitions to the point of complete absurdity, in a manner embarrassing to anyone interested in democracy, justice or rule of law.

It's time that NY Election Law be rewritten, putting all political parties on an even playing field with each other, as well as with the interests of those voters who are unaffiliated with any political party. Failing to do so will result in one party rule in NYS, Westchester and New Rochelle within 20 years. At that point there would be no choices nor democracy.

Wow, thank you Brian! We are in the middle of gathering signatures for Village elections, I've read the Election law 6 - 208 and it is a bit confusing. But what I think you're saying is that, within our little village, for local trustee, justice, positions - any village registered voter resident can get anyone's signature - as long as that signer hasn't signed anyone else's petition. We will make sure that the witnesses don't witness their own signatures. But it is a great relief that the witnesses don't all have to be notary publics! (The rules seem to be different for Designating an Independent nominee - and I think that was confusing to some of us).
Thanks again! And Thanks to Jim for having this website!

An independent candidate is the same thing as an unaffilliated candidate.

But a petitions for a candidate running under the Independence Party follows the same rules as an Republican or Democrat, rather than the rules for a candidate independent of any party.

I also need to point out that the rules for petitioning to run for NYS Supreme Court differ from the rules of other offices, but a Village, Town or Ciy Judge follow the same rules as candidates for non-judicial rules.

In creating a petition, one should try to put room for only ten signatures per page, making extra room for each signature. If at some point, a page somehow seems questionable, you should cease putting additional signatures on that page, but instead start the next page. But do submit all pages. Any time there is an error (other than a signature), the witness should fix the error and put initials next to the error. Correctable errors might include date and address. If someone's signature is spread into the next line, skip a line for the next signature.

I also would like to thank Jim Maisano for his blog.

Okay, got it. Thanks! But There's one more question. See above please.

For an IndepenDENT petition, can a person who witnessed signatures for a main party (Democrat/Repub/Ind) gather and witness signatures for an IndpenDENT petition? I know that someone cannot SIGN two petitions as a petitioner, but can they sign two petitions as a WITNESS?
This is for a local village Trustee election.
Thank you, again.

A person can witness multiple petitions, even for opposing candidates, as long as that person is otherwise qualified as a witness.

Additionally, in certain cases a person can sign petitions for multiple candidates for the same office, with the multiple signatures qualifying on all the petitions.

An example of that is when one runs for the Party Office of Member of the Westchester County or New Rochelle Committee, representing an Election District. The informal name for that political office is District Leader. Each Election District can have two District Leaders for each Party. As an example, last month I was petitioning for myself as a Democratic District Leader. Anyone who signed my Petition could also sign a Petition for another Democrat running for the same political office in the same Election District, and both signatures would qualify.

Within governmental offices, one could sign multiple petitions for NY Supreme Court Justice, if there are multiple Supreme Court positions up for election. Or within a City, Town or Village Council election, where multiple Councilmembers are elected At-Large, one could sign multiple petitions for as many candidates as are up for election (presuming one candidate per petition).

Any time a petition has multiple candidates listed for the same office, signing that petition is the equivalent of signing multiple petitions, one for each candidate. There's implications to that, I will not go into.

It's important to read NY Election Law thoroughly. But few people realize it's just as important to read NY Public Officers Law. NY State likes to spread its requirements and regulations among many Chapters and Statutes, just to confuse everyone including lawyers and judges.

Hi Jim,

Is it against the law for the Mayor and the board to use a phony fund to balance the budget? They also increased the taxes and bonded under this phony budget. If so what law is it or what can the residents do?

Westchester County Legislator Jim Maisano's picture

Under clear NYS Law, all budgets for municipal corporations, such as a village, town, city, county, school district, etc., must be balanced when passed. And the budget cannot be balanced with phoney revenues - proposed revenues and expenses for the coming year must be equal based on real numbers. If a government relied on a "phoney fund" (based on what I believe that term to mean - you are asking me a question in the abstract) that budget would have been passed in violation of NYS Law. However, remember that budgets, to some degree, are estimates, since it is impossible to perfectly predict expenses and revenues in the coming budgetary year.