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MRAZEK v. SUFFOLK CTY. BD. OF ELECTIONS

June 7, 1979

Robert MRAZEK et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SUFFOLK COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINSTEIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the Suffolk County Conservative party's method for designating Senate and Assembly candidates who are not enrolled party members. They have not demonstrated any factual or legal basis for their motion for summary judgment.

 I. FACTS

 Shortly before the November, 1978 general election, plaintiffs the Democratic party candidates for State Senator from the Second Senatorial District and for State Assemblyman from the Fourth Assembly District and two enrolled members of the Conservative party residing in those districts sought relief removing the Conservative party designation of their opponents, Lack and Wertz, enrolled Republicans and Republican party candidates. Preliminary relief was denied, primarily on the ground that, given the immediate pendency of the general election, court intervention would irreparably disrupt the nearly completed campaign, thus interfering seriously with the right to vote of citizens in these districts. While the election is over, it is likely that the issue will arise again.

 In order for a non-party member to be eligible to run as a party candidate, he or she must be authorized by a committee of the party. The statute permits party rules to control the nature of the committee empowered to grant this privilege:

 
The members of the party committee representing the political subdivision of the office for which a designation or nomination is to be made, Or of such other committee as the rules of the party may provide, . . . may, by a majority vote of those present at such meeting provided a quorum is present, Authorize the designation or nomination of a person as candidate for any office who is not enrolled as a member of such party as provided in this section. . . .

 N.Y. Election Law § 6-120(3) (emphasis added). See also id. § 6-120(1), (2).

 Under Suffolk County Conservative party rules, the county executive committee is authorized to designate a non-party member as an eligible candidate in all elections except town elections. Rules and Regulations of the Suffolk County Conservative Party, Art. V, § 2(a) (April 25, 1976). The executive committee has thirteen members. Four are officers of the county committee; they are elected by the county committee, whose members in turn are elected by party members in each election district in the county. The other nine members each represent towns in the county; the member representing each town is selected by the county committee persons who have been elected in each election district within the town. Id., Art. II, § 2; Art. III, § 3(a). In the non-party member candidate designation process, each executive committee member apparently casts one vote. Id., Art. III, § 3(a).

 Once a non-party member is designated by the executive committee as an eligible party candidate, he or she must circulate designating petitions within the district from which election is sought and secure the required number of signatures of party members within that district. See N.Y. Election Law §§ 6-118; 6-136.

 Plaintiffs argue that the principle of "one person, one vote" requires that where the party declares a non-party member eligible to run under the party banner, that decision must be made only by a body whose members have been elected by party members within the district from which the candidate will seek election. Where, for example, a non-party member seeks to become eligible to run as a party candidate for the New York State Assembly, the party committee which performs the initial designation must, they urge, be composed only of persons selected to represent party members within the particular assembly district. The present scheme, they assert, cannot meet this requirement. First, the four at-large members of the executive committee are chosen by the whole county committee, whose members are elected to represent party members in each election district of the county. Second, the nine other members of the executive committee are chosen to represent party members in each of various towns of the county. Towns may fall in the same or different senatorial and assembly districts. Suffolk encompasses ten assembly districts and four senatorial districts. See N.Y. State Law §§ 121, 124. At the time of the eligibility designation complained of, the executive committee apparently had only two members (from Smithtown and Huntington) elected in a fashion plaintiffs construe as representing party members within the Second Senatorial District, and only one member (from Smithtown) so representing party members within the Fourth Assembly District.

 II. LAW

 An "individual's right to vote for state legislators is unconstitutionally impaired when its weight is in a substantial fashion diluted . . .." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 568-69, 84 S. Ct. 1362, 1385, 12 L. Ed. 2d 506 (1964). But "mathematical nicety is not a constitutional requisite. . . ." Id. Reasonable tolerances are particularly appropriate in measuring the smallest cogs of political machinery against the constitutional standard.

 The law protects against any substantial diminution of each voter's practical power to participate in the selection of representatives. It does not require a formal equality that destroys the real power of the people. Particularly where party machinery is involved, the states and parties must be afforded broad leeway to devise the varied procedures needed to meet the special problems in our diverse and heterogeneous society. See Marchioro v. Chaney, 442 U.S. 191, 197 n.11, 99 S. Ct. 2243, 2246 n.11, 60 L. Ed. 2d 816 (1979).

 Because the process by which candidates secure a place on the ballot is "unquestionably . . . an integral part in the state scheme of public elections," it must comport with the one person, one vote principle. Seergy v. Kings County Republican County ...


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