Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's political star has risen so high, she can win a primary election without trying — or apparently even knowing. Last month, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, unleashed a political tsunami of sorts when she beat the 10-term incumbent, ...
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not only beat Representative Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary for the 14th Congressional District, she also won a third-party primary in a neighboring congressional district where she was not even on the ballot.CreditAnnie Tritt for The New York Times
July 11, 2018
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political star has risen so high, she can win a primary election without trying — or apparently even knowing.
Last month, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, unleashed a political tsunami of sorts when she beat the 10-term incumbent, Representative Joseph Crowley, in the Democratic primary in the 14th Congressional District.
But she also unintentionally won a spot on the ballot for the neighboring 15th Congressional District in the Bronx, garnering nine write-in votes, enough to claim the Reform Party line over the Democratic incumbent, Representative Jose Serrano.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who on Tuesday expressed surprise at her write-in victory, immediately declined the nomination.
But the oddity of her Reform Party victory illustrates the pull and occasional power of New York’s third parties — entities like the Women’s Equality Party and the influential Working Families Party. Indeed, the parties give failed major-party primary candidates an opportunity to persevere, if they choose, and appear on the ballot in the general election.
Even in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s district, the Working Families Party line was won by Mr. Crowley, who had secured that party’s endorsement. Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, said he immediately reached out to Mr. Crowley’s campaign to request that he vacate the line.
To Mr. Lipton’s chagrin, his campaign declined; Mr. Crowley will remain on the ballot in November. “You’d think that given the moment we’re in,” said Mr. Lipton, “that Democratic leaders would want to help progressive forces to unite.”
Asked about Mr. Crowley’s plans regarding the Working Families Party line, a campaign spokeswoman said only: “Joe Crowley is a Democrat. He’s made clear he is not running for Congress and supports the Democratic nominee in NY-14.”
[The confusion over Mr. Crowley’s third-party ballot line caused Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Crowley to spar on Twitter Thursday morning. Read here.]
In Mr. Crowley’s case, vacating the line is not that simple. The Working Families Party must go through a convoluted legal maneuver, essentially nominating the unwanted primary winner for another electoral position on the ballot — often one that he or she has little chance of winning, like a county clerkship in a region of the state dominated by the other party.
“It’s very quirky,” said Jerry H. Goldfeder, an election lawyer and an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law. “It demonstrates how the various minor parties sometimes have inordinate control over the way the ballot looks, and that causes confusion in the electorate.”
In the case of a write-in victory, a candidate can accept or decline the nomination. If the candidate declines, the party is free to nominate someone else; if the candidate accepts, the party is stuck.
In the unlikely event that the candidate neither accepts nor declines, then the nomination is null and void and the party cannot back anyone in the fall, said John Conklin, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections.
In last month’s primary, for instance, Tedra Cobb won the Democratic primary in the 21st Congressional District, which stretches from the New York-Vermont border to Lake Ontario. The distant runner-up, Dylan Ratigan, won the Women’s Equality Party as a write-in candidate, snagging just two of four votes cast.
The Women’s Equality Party, however, wanted to back Ms. Cobb; Mr. Ratigan, a former host of MSNBC, agreed to decline the nomination, said Susan Zimet, the party’s chairwoman.
“Tedra Cobb won by more than 50 percent of the vote, even though there were several candidates,” Ms. Zimet said. “So that speaks volumes about how well she ran her race and the kind of enthusiasm she was able to generate. And we’re delighted to have a woman.”
Another Democratic challenger in the district, Katie Wilson, had received the Working Families Party endorsement. But she and the party had the political equivalent of a prenuptial understanding. “Katie and us — we arrived at an agreement when we endorsed her that it was important to be united against Republicans in the fall,” Mr. Lipton said. “We have a long history of not spoiling.”
Mr. Lipton, who also wants to back Ms. Cobb, is now in talks with Ms. Wilson to put her name in contention for state legislative office, a process that involves moving an existing W.F.P. candidate — who happens to be a lawyer — to instead run for State Supreme Court. (Only lawyers can pursue judicial posts.)
“This is the bizarre mechanism we have to go through in order to change our endorsement,” Mr. Lipton said. “The primary is over and the world is changed.”
Since 2009, when New York State moved to paper ballots, more write-in candidates have emerged victorious, state election officials said.
“Under the lever machine, writing in a candidate was like unraveling a Rubik’s Cube,” said Mr. Conklin of the Board of Elections. “It was very difficult to do.”
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Quirks of Third Parties Muddle State Elections. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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