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VANWIE v. PATAKI

February 29, 2000

WENDY VANWIE AND LLOYD F. WRIGHT, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
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.

I. INTRODUCTION

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.

II. FACTS

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 choice.

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 provides:

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).

III. DISCUSSION

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 ...


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