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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Stands Up For New York's Working Families Party

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York City Democrat, encouraged her supporters in New York to vote the Working Families Party’s ballot line in an effort to save the independent progressive group’s place on the ballot.

“In New York, we’re lucky. We have the opportunity to both vote out Trump AND, and the same time, send a message to the Democratic Party that we can do better,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a Monday message to New Yorkers on her email list and the email list of the New York WFP. “We do that by voting [Joe] Biden/[Kamala] Harris on the WFP line.”

Ocasio-Cortez has already encouraged the 1.6 million people who follow her on Facebook to vote for the Democratic presidential ticket on the WFP’s ballot line.

“We need to defend our movement, and to defend the Working Families Party,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Oct. 3. “Will you pledge to join me in voting on the WFP line for Biden and Harris?”

Ocasio-Cortez’s appeal lends an influential voice in an obscure internecine political fight that many Empire State progressives nonetheless believe has high stakes for the activist left’s future in the overwhelmingly Democratic state.

In New York’s unusual “fusion” voting system, candidates have the option to seek the ballot line of multiple parties, enabling voters to demonstrate support for an ideological movement within a party without jeopardizing the political power of one of the two main political parties ― Democrats and Republicans.

The WFP, which progressive labor unions and community groups founded in 1998 to provide a left-wing voice in New York politics, has long encouraged left-leaning voters to vote for Democratic candidates on its ballot line to show the strength of the party’s progressive wing.

But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), a corporate-friendly moderate whom the WFP unsuccessfully sought to unseat in 2018, is trying to disempower the group. He slipped a provision into the state’s budget this year raising the vote threshold for a political party to remain on the ballot from 50,000 votes every four years to either 130,000 votes or 2% of the total vote ― whichever is higher ― every two years.

Since 114,000 New Yorkers voted on the WFP ballot line in 2018, the progressive organization is pulling out all the stops to ensure it meets the new threshold.

The WFP did not endorse Ocasio-Cortez ahead of the June 2018 primary that secured her a place in Congress. The organization decided instead to expend political capital on actor Cynthia Nixon’s bid to unseat Cuomo and a successful campaign to oust a group of Democratic state senators who aligned with the GOP.

But the organization has since developed close ties with Ocasio-Cortez, who described the WFP in Monday’s email as a “powerful force for working people and progressive candidates.”

Ironically for Ocasio-Cortez’s constituents in New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens, the task of voting for the Democratic ticket on the WFP ballot line is slightly more complicated.

In May, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign failed to submit the required number of valid petition signatures ― 15 ― for her to appear on the WFP ballot line. Residents of New York’s 14th who want to vote for Ocasio-Cortez, vote for the Biden-Harris presidential ticket and help the WFP retain its place on New York’s ballot must vote Biden-Harris on the WFP ballot line and Ocasio-Cortez on the Democratic Party line.

Thanks to the ruling of a group of state judges, WFP supporters in New York’s 24th District, which includes Syracuse, must also make a special effort to show support for the WFP. The WFP had nominated Steve Williams as a placeholder candidate as its nominee for the House in New York’s 24th District so it could later endorse whichever candidate won the Democratic congressional primary in the district. (The WFP had also endorsed Balter in the primary.)

After Dana Balter won the Democratic nomination in the district in June, the WFP sought to remove its placeholder candidate from the ballot on the grounds that it was nominating Williams for a judicial post instead. 

But a local Republican Party challenged the nomination of Williams to the judicial post on a technicality, and last Tuesday, a panel of state appellate judges ruled in the GOP’s favor. Williams will remain on the WFP ballot line, so supporters of Balter, who is in a competitive race to unseat Republican Rep. John Katko, must vote for her on the Democratic Party ballot line. They can vote for the rest of the ticket on the WFP ballot line.

Not all New York progressives believe that preserving the WFP’s ballot line is a cause worth fighting for. In particular, some supporters of independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid remain bitter that the WFP endorsed Sanders’ rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). 

But Warren has gone to bat for the WFP as it seeks to remain on the ballot in New York. Warren sent an email appeal to New Yorkers on her campaign email list to vote for Democrats on the WFP ballot line.

“Your vote can help defeat Trump and strengthen the progressive movement at the same time,” she wrote.

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