GUEST COLUMN: The importance of studying the ballot

By Wanda Warren Berry

Thank you, Madison County Courier, for attempting to publish the ballots for the Nov. 7 elections. They did not open well on my equipment, but you stimulated a visit to the Board of Elections website, where I could find the ballot for my town, as well as a readable version of the propositions.

I regularly overhear real confusion about our ballots when in the polling place, and this year, the ballots are more complex than sometimes in the past, not only because of important statewide propositions on the back, but because most candidates for office on the front of the ballot are nominated by two or three “parties.”

It is important to prepare so that you vote for only one candidate for each office, otherwise, your vote can be invalidated. As is usual, the offices to be elected are across the top and the parties are listed down the left side. Some parties do not have nominees for all of the offices.

Voters new to New York may not realize that, while one cannot be on the ballot without being nominated by a “party,” a candidate can be endorsed by up to three “parties.” Some “parties” are easily recognized as such because they are national or statewide (e.g., Democratic, Republican, Reform, Women’s Equality).

There always is confusion because one party is named “Independence” though it is an established party with its own principles, membership and organization. Quite different are the “independent” parties that are developed only for a particular election and lack any organization that continues.

It has become a regular practice for candidates nominated by major parties also to designate an “independent” line on the ballot. This aims to allow a vote for a particular candidate, even if one does not choose to support the major party that has nominated him or her. For example, many years ago Republican candidates in Hamilton began to choose also to run on the “Hometown Party” line. Later, Democrats began to pass independent petitions so that their candidates also could appear on the “Good Government” line.

The deadline for filing a candidacy is different for each kind of nomination. When an established political party nominates by designating petition, that deadline is quite early in the summer. Party nominations by caucus, however, can come as late as September. Independent party petitions usually are to be filed in mid-August. If parties miss an earlier deadline, they can put candidates forward on independent party petitions.

All of this testifies to the importance of studying both the front and back of the ballot before you vote. Visit the Board of Elections website using the link in the first paragraph above. A link to the statewide propositions heads a list of links to all of the towns. For example, this is the link for the Town of Hamilton:

The propositions can be read at

Dr. Wanda Warren Berry of Hamilton is a retired professor and longtime voting advocate.

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