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KOPPELL v. NEW YORK STATE BD. OF ELECTIONS

August 11, 2000

G. OLIVER KOPPELL, ARNOLD LINHARDT, MARIE MORRISON PLAINTIFFS,
V.
NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stein, District Judge.

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

G. Oliver Koppell-a candidate for the Democratic nomination for New York State Attorney General in 1994 and 1998-and Arnold Linhardt and Marie Morrison-two New York state voters-brought this action challenging the constitutionality of New York Election Law § 7-116(3). Pursuant to Section 7-116(3), in primary elections in the 57 counties outside of New York City the order of candidates on the ballot is determined by lottery, so that the same candidate appears first on every ballot. See N.Y. Election Law § 116(3). In contrast, within New York City ballot position is rotated by election district, so that each name appears first and in each other position an equal number of times. See N.Y. Election Law § 7-116(6).

Two years ago this week, this Court denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, on the grounds that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. See Koppell v. New York State Board of Elections, 8 F. Supp.2d 382 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). That determination was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. See Koppell v. New York State Board of Elections, 153 F.3d 95 (2d Cir. 1998). Familiarity with those two opinions is assumed.

Following discovery proceedings and the exchange of expert reports, a bench trial was held on May 22 and 23, 2000. Upon consideration of the evidence presented and the testimony adduced at the trial, this Court finds that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that New York Election Law § 7-116(3) infringes upon their constitutional rights. The following constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).

II DISCUSSION

When entertaining challenges to state election laws, a court

must first consider the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate. It then must identify and evaluate the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by the rule. In passing judgment, the Court must not only determine the legitimacy and strength of each of those interests; it must also consider the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiffs rights.

Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 789, 103 S.Ct. 1564, 75 L.Ed.2d 547 (1983). In Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 112 S.Ct. 2069, 119 L.Ed.2d 245 (1992), the Supreme Court clarified the standard set forth in Anderson as follows:

[T]he rigorousness of our inquiry into the propriety of a state election law depends upon the extent to which a challenged regulation burdens First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Thus, as we have recognized when those rights are subjected to `severe' restrictions, the regulation must be `narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance.' . . . But when a state election law provision imposes only `reasonable nondiscriminatory restrictions' upon the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of voters, `the State's important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify' the restrictions.

Id. at 434, 112 S.Ct. 2059 (citing Anderson).

Plaintiffs' specific allegations-upon which they premise their claim that this regulation imposes a severe burden on their constitutional rights-are that position bias exists in primary elections in New York State, that position bias is of sufficient magnitude to affect the outcome of primary elections when the placement of candidates' names is not rotated on the ballot, and that defendants have not demonstrated a strong enough interest to justify the burdens imposed by the lottery system.

Defendants contend that plaintiffs' findings are flawed and do not provide conclusive evidence that position bias affects the outcome of upstate elections. Further, defendants claim that even if the Court were to accept plaintiffs' allegations, the effects of the ...


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