Representative Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, went all-in on Donald Trump’s scheme to steal the 2020 election. In December 2020, he joined 124 of his House Republican colleagues in filing an amicus brief encouraging the Supreme Court to nullify Joe Biden’s win in four states. On the night of January 6, 2021, hours after the Capitol riot, Zeldin delivered a speech (one analysis deemed it “deficient in facts”), which alleged that there had been rampant voter fraud in several states Biden won. Later that night, Zeldin voted against certifying the election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania.
There are a lot of reasons why promoting Trump’s bogus concerns about “election integrity” was a bad idea, but here’s one Zeldin probably didn’t anticipate: It makes it really easy for your opponents to label you a hypocrite when your gubernatorial campaign submits a remarkable number of invalid signatures.
The New York State Board of Elections rejected Zeldin’s application to get an extra ballot line for the Independence Party on Thursday, because it found his campaign had submitted nearly 13,000 photocopied signatures. (He’ll still appear on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines in November’s election.) Newsday reports:
Zeldin, along with the entire Republican ticket, had submitted about 52,000 petition signatures to run as Independence Party candidates, which would have been about 7,000 more than they needed to qualify.
But the board, following up on an assertion that thousands of signatures were merely photocopied duplicates, threw out nearly 13,000 signatures — leaving Zeldin shy of the 45,000 minimum.
In a ruling first reported by Newsday, the elections board said: “12,868 were found to be invalid, leaving 39,228 valid signatures … The petition does not contain the requisite number of signatures, and is invalid.”
A Zeldin spokesperson told the Gotham Gazette that the campaign had not reviewed the specific objections, but if anyone had submitted pages upon pages of photocopied signatures, it certainly wasn’t them.
“Being nearly an entirely grassroots effort, we haven’t reviewed all of the petitions nor the specific objections associated with them,” spokesperson Katie Vincentz wrote in an email to the Gazette. “In the final few days leading up to the filing deadline, tens of thousands of signatures from all over the state had to be immediately turned into the Board of Elections. While the Zeldin for New York campaign is not aware of photocopies, we certainly didn’t make any photo copies.”
Vincentz suggested that things may have gotten a little hectic as the paperwork was being put together. But Andrew Kolstee, secretary of the Libertarian Party, who brought the challenge along with independent U.S. Senate candidate Diane Sare, noted that the photocopies didn’t appear together in one chunk; instead, they were scattered throughout the petition in groups of varying sizes.
“Republicans talk a lot about election integrity, but the Zeldin campaign attempted to fly under the radar and submit over 11,000 fraudulent signatures in an attempt to get a third line on the ballot,” Kolstee said in a statement.
Veteran election lawyer Sarah Steiner told the Gazette that unless this was some kind of grievous photocopying and pagination error, submitting nearly 13,000 duplicate signatures is “a massive attempt at fraud.”
“That sounds like a deliberate attempt to pad the petition,” Steiner added. “Whereas you can kind of see how a bunch of copies could be picked up and bound inadvertently, if they were all together.”
Kolstee told Newsday that by challenging the Zeldin application, the Libertarian Party, which recently lost its place on New York’s ballot, hoped to show that the state’s 45,000-signature threshold for third parties is too difficult even for major parties to reach. The Libertarian Party has an ongoing lawsuit challenging the new requirements, which were implemented in 2019 by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo. Per Bloomberg Law:
The complaint in federal court alleges that up until recently, and since 1936, a political party only had to receive 50,000 votes for governor every four years in order to qualify for ballot access. Alternatively, parties were required to provide a petition with 15,000 signatures received over six weeks.
The political party says Cuomo changed the rules as part of a “last minute” addition to the state’s new budget, partly to appease “a personal vendetta.”
The new thresholds are 130,000 votes for governor and president every two years (or 2 percent of the total vote, whichever is greater), and 45,000 signatures over the same period of time (or 1 percent of total enrolled voters, whichever is less), the complaint filed in the Southern District of New York says.
So maybe this whole debacle is kind of, sort of Andrew Cuomo’s fault in the end? Free advice for the Zeldin campaign: Run with that.
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