United States District Court, Northern District of New York
February 29, 2000
WENDY VANWIE AND LLOYD F. WRIGHT, PLAINTIFFS,
GEORGE PATAKI, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK; WILLIAM POWERS, CHAIRMAN, NEW YORK REPUBLICAN STATE COMMITTEE; JUDITH HOPE, CHAIRMAN OF THE NYS DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE; NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS; WEST PAGE 149 NEIL W. KELLEHER, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS; CAROL BERMAN, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS; EVELYN J. AQUILA; HELENA MOSES DONOHUE, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS; COLUMBIA COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS; THOMAS FISHER, COMMISSIONER OF COLUMBIA COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS; JOSEPH FINN, COMMISSIONER OF COLUMBIA COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS; DUTCHESS COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS; WILLIAM PAROLI, SR., COMMISSIONER OF ELECTION OR HIS SUCCESSOR; AND WILLIAM J. EGAN, COMMISSIONER OF ELECTION, DEFENDANTS. STATE COMMITTEE OF THE INDEPENDENCE PARTY OF NEW YORK STATE, JACK R. ESSENBERG, CHAIRMAN, AND INDIVIDUALLY, AMICUS CURIE.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurd, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Wendy VanWie and Lloyd F. Wright ("VanWie" and
"Wright" individually, and "plaintiffs" collectively) filed the
instant action on February 22, 2000, alleging that they, as
registered nonenrolled voters, were discriminated against by
defendants' interpretation and application of New York Election
Law §§ 5-210 and 5-304. An Order was issued on February 24, 2000,
directing defendants to show cause why the defendants should not
be restrained from taking actions against plaintiffs and other
persons similarly situated, including, but not limited to, taking
any steps which prohibit plaintiffs and others similarly situated
from completing enrollment in a political party and from voting
in the New York State Presidential Primary election to be held on
March 7, 2000, pending a full hearing on plaintiffs' application
for declaratory and injunctive relief. The State Committee of the
Independence Party of New York State ("Independence Party") moved
to intervene in opposition to the complaint.
Oral argument was heard on February 29, 2000, in Utica, New
York. The motion by Independence Party to intervene was denied;
however, the Independence Party was permitted to argue as amicus
curiae. Decision was reserved.
Plaintiffs are and have been registered voters in the State of
New York for some time. Neither plaintiff was enrolled in a
political party. Rather, each plaintiff declined enrollment in a
political party at the time of voter registration, choosing
instead to remain independent from party affiliation. On February
4, 2000, VanWie submitted a completed change of enrollment form
to the Columbia County Board of Elections purporting to change
from a "blank," or nonenrolled registrant, to a registrant
enrolled in the political party of her choice. On February 25,
2000, Wright submitted a similar change to the County Board of
Elections in Dutchess County purporting to change from a "blank"
enrollment to being enrolled in the political party of his
New York Election Law provides that a registered voter who
wishes to change party enrollment or nonenrollment status may do
so at any time. However, any such change must be made prior to
the twenty fifth day preceding the general election in order to
become effective on the first Tuesday following the general
election and to permit the enrollee to vote in the next primary
elections, which occur in March and September. The Election Law
The term "change of enrollment" shall apply to
applications by a registered voter already enrolled
in one party to enroll in a different party, or to
delete his enrollment in any party, or an application
by a registered voter not enrolled in any party to
enroll in a particular party. . . .
A change of enrollment received by the board of
elections not later than the twenty-fifth day before
the general election shall be deposited in a sealed
enrollment box, which shall not be opened until the
first Tuesday following such general election. Such
change of enrollment shall be then removed and
entered as provided in this article.
N YElec.Law § 5-304(2)-(3) (McKinney 1998). Additionally, new
registrants, not previously registered nor enrolled in a
political party, are permitted to vote in a general, primary, or
special election if they register to vote and enroll in a
political party twenty-five days prior to that election. The
applicable New York Election law provides:
. . any qualified person may apply personally for
registration and enrollment, change of enrollment by
mail or by appearing at the board of elections on any
day, except a day of election, during the hours that
such board of elections is open for business.
Completed application forms, when received by any
county board of elections and, with respect to
application forms promulgated by the federal election
commission, when received by the state board of
elections, or showing a dated cancellation mark of
the United States Postal Service or contained in an
envelope showing such a dated cancellation mark which
is not later than the twenty-fifth day before the
next ensuing primary, general or special election,
and received no later than the twentieth day before
such election, or the tenth day before a special
election, shall entitle the applicant to vote in
such election, if he is otherwise qualified. . . .
N YElec.Law § 5-210(1), (3) (McKinney 1998) (emphasis added).
In other words, in order to vote in the March 7, 2000, primary
election, for example, a registered nonenrolled voter must have
changed status to enroll in a political party at least
twenty-five days prior to the November 1999 general election
(October 12, 1999). However, a previously nonregistered person
could become a voter and vote in March 7, 2000, primary election
by registering to vote and enrolling in a political party
twenty-five days prior to the March 7, 2000, primary election
(February 10, 2000).
Plaintiffs allege that as previously registered, nonenrolled
voters they are discriminated against by the deferral of the
effectiveness of their enrollment in the political party of their
choice, as compared with previously unregistered voters, in
violation of the United States Constitution and the Constitution,
statutes, and common law of the State of New York. In other
words, plaintiffs contend that the delayed effectiveness of their
enrollment in the party of their choice in February 2000 until
November 2000 is discriminatory. They contend that their
enrollment in the political party of their choice should be
effective at such time so as to qualify them to vote in the
applicable political primary elections of March 7, 2000, in the
same way that a previously nonregistered person's registration
and enrollment in a political party on or before February 10,
2000, would qualify that person to vote in the appropriate March
7, 2000, primary election.
Initially, as was noted and agreed at oral argument, Wright
submitted his change of enrollment form to the Dutchess County
Board of Elections on February 25, 2000. Accordingly, he would in
no instance be qualified to vote in the March 7, 2000, primary
elections and any claims by him are dismissed.
The following analysis, therefore, applies only to VanWie and
any other similarly situated previously registered nonenrolled
voter who submitted a change of enrollment form enrolling in a
political party of their choice to their local County Board of
Elections on or before February 10, 2000.
The analysis is necessarily brief, due to the impending primary
election that could be affected, scheduled to occur merely one
week subsequent to this date.
Where the state burdens the weighty interest of citizens in
their right to vote and to associate with political parties of
their choice, the state's interest in imposing the burden must be
compelling, and the restriction must be narrowly drawn to
minimize any abridgment of such fundamental rights. See, e.g.,
Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut, 479 U.S. 208,
213-17, 107 S.Ct. 544, 93 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986).
New York's election law previously provided for a delayed
enrollment period for newly registered voters and for those
wishing to change their enrollment in a political party. The
previous election law required a potential voter to both register
and enroll in a political party thirty days prior to the general
election in order to
qualify the voter to vote in the spring primary elections. See
generally Rosario v. Rockefeller, 410 U.S. 752, 760-62, 93 S.Ct.
1245, 36 L.Ed.2d 1 (1973) (analyzing the lengthy time period
between the enrollment deadline and the next primary election).
The delayed enrollment scheme adopted in New York State has
been upheld as not constituting an unconstitutionally onerous
burden on voters' exercise of the right to vote or the freedom of
political association. Id. The Rosario Court held that the
delayed effectiveness of New York's election laws, which at that
time applied to both registered and unregistered voters alike,
did not disenfranchise the class of newly registered voters.
Id. Because the voters in Rosario could have timely
registered and enrolled in a political party of their choice, but
failed to do so, the Court found that "if their plight can be
characterized as disenfranchisement at all, it was not caused by
[the New York Election Law], but by their own failure to take
timely steps to effect their enrollment." Id. at 758, 93 S.Ct.
Unlike the election law at issue in Rosario, the current law
requires a changed political party enrollment to occur
twenty-five days prior to the general election in order to
qualify to vote in the following spring primary elections.
However, the current law now permits previously unregistered
persons to register (and enroll in a political party) twenty-five
days prior to the primary election and to vote in that primary.
Thus, the current election law treats registered and unregistered
In order to pass constitutional muster, such a disparity in
treatment between identifiable groups of voters must be justified
by a compelling state interest. See Tashjian, 479 U.S. at
213-17, 107 S.Ct. 544.
A State's broad power to regulate the time, place and
manner of elections `does not extinguish the State's
responsibility to observe the limits established by
the First Amendment rights of the State's citizens.'
Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut, 479
U.S. at 217, 107 S.Ct. 544. To assess the
constitutionality of a state election, we first
examine whether it burdens rights protected by the
First and Fourteenth Amendments. Id., at 214, 107
S.Ct. 544; Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780,
789, 103 S.Ct. 1564, 75 L.Ed.2d 547 (1983). If the
challenged law burdens the rights of political
parties and their members, it can survive
constitutional scrutiny only if the State shows that
it advances a compelling state interest, Tashjian,
supra, at 217, 222, 107 S.Ct. 544; Illinois Bd. of
Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173,
184, 99 S.Ct. 983, 59 L.Ed.2d 230 (1979); American
Party of Texas v. White, 415 U.S. 767, 780, and n.
11, 94 S.Ct. 1296, 39 L.Ed.2d 744 (1974); Williams
v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 31, 89 S.Ct. 5, 21 L.Ed.2d
24 (1968), and is narrowly tailored to serve that
interest, Illinois State Bd. of Elections, supra,
at 185, 99 S.Ct. 983; Kusper v. Pontikes,
414 U.S. 51, 58-59, 94 S.Ct. 303, 38 L.Ed.2d 260 (1973); Dunn
v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 343, 92 S.Ct. 995, 31
L.Ed.2d 274 (1972).
Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee,
489 U.S. 214
, 222, 109 S.Ct. 1013, 103 L.Ed.2d 271 (1989) (internal
parallel citations omitted). Thus, the state must show that the
different time requirements for enrollment in political parties
for registered and nonregistered voters advance a compelling
An articulated state interest in permitting the later
registration and enrollment for previously nonregistered persons
is to encourage their participation in the democratic process of
electing public officials. The state's intention in changing the
election law to permit later registration and sooner
participation by previously unregistered potential voters was to
provide unregistered persons an incentive to register and vote.
This is a compelling state interest. The failure of so many of
our citizens to take an active interest in public affairs is a
very serious problem in this country. The right to vote is a
cherished right which has been achieved at the sacrifice of
countless lives. Legitimate efforts of government on the federal,
state, and local levels to increase participation in our
democratic election process must be encouraged. The statute at
issue in this case represents one small legitimate effort made by
the State of New York to increase participation in the election
process by unregistered persons. Registered voters such as the
plaintiffs need no such encouragement.
Furthermore, the New York Election Law is narrowly tailored to
encourage the participation of those who had not previously
voted, or those who had not recently voted as evidenced by lapsed
registration. The provisions providing a shortened waiting period
for new registrants does not affect the change of enrollment
requirements for previously registered voters. Thus, no burden is
placed upon previously enrolled voters such as plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs, as previously registered voters, had every
opportunity to submit change of enrollment forms electing to
enroll in the political party of their choice before the October
12, 1999, deadline. Had they done so, they would be qualified to
vote in the March 7, 2000, primary elections. Not having taken
advantage of the opportunity to do so, their enrollment changes
do not become effective until the first Tuesday after the
November 2000 general election, pursuant to § 5-304.
The State compelling interest in encouraging participation in
the democratic election process justifies the incentive of a
shortened time period between registration and enrollment in a
political party provided by New York Election Law § 5-210. The
shortened time period provided to new registrants does not unduly
burden the rights of previously registered voters who, under §
5-304 may change enrollment in political parties every year under
the time constraints previously upheld by the United States
Supreme Court in Rosario. Any other arguments or motions by the
parties are moot.
Accordingly, it is
ORDERED that plaintiffs' complaint, seeking solely declaratory
and injunctive relief, is DISMISSED in its entirety.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment
IT IS SO ORDERED.
© 1992-2003 VersusLaw Inc.