With early voting in New York about to kick off, left-leaning New York voters are being asked to do more than vote for former Vice President Joseph Biden and Senator Kamala Harris at the top of the ticket. The Working Families Party wants them to cast their ballots on the WFP party line and, in the process, save the party from extinction.
That’s because the most important election of a lifetime, as 2020 is often called, is also an existential one for the 22-year-old WFP. In order to maintain its ballot line, the party must receive 130,000 votes or 2% of the total, whichever is higher, thanks to rule changes supported by the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo. That’s more than double the previous 50,000 vote requirement to maintain a ballot line in New York.
The WFP has enlisted the party’s progressive all-stars for an all-out drive to keep its ballot line alive, including a media campaign and volunteers standing outside poll sites. The latest push comes from Massachusetts Senator and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren in a video released Tuesday, in which she says the voters need the WFP to push for structural change.
“The Working Families Party is a powerful force for change,” Warren says touting the party’s success electing “countless” progressive candidates, “and they’ve won major victories, from paid family leave, to a ban on fracking and to landmark protections for renters.” But, in order for the Democrats to keep attacking issues from systemic racism to climate change, Warren says, an organization like the WFP is needed.
She joins a roster of New York’s progressives—elected officials, candidates and activists —boosting the WFP. On Monday, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lent her name to the cause in an email blast to voters. State legislators Alessandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar, and Yuh-Line Niou, and candidates Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, and Tiffany Caban are all pushing Dems to vote WFP. Gloria Steinem also put out a video supporting the third party.
During the Brian Lehrer Show on Monday, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who supported Senator Bernie Sanders for the top of the Democratic ticket, offered his rationale for voting Biden/Harris on the WFP line at this moment.
“I am not the biggest fan of the selection that was made to run against the current president. But there is an existential threat, which is Donald Trump,” said Williams, who was endorsed by the WFP when he ran for Lieutenant Governor in a closer-than-expected 2018 primary and during his successful Public Advocate campaign. “So we should get rid of him now and then begin to hold Biden Harris accountable on January 20th. That's mission number one and mission number two.”
Despite the bold-faced names, the success of the WFP’s campaign is far from assured. They need to ask voters to find Biden-Harris on a different ballot line to cast their vote, even if the person is voting for Democrats for other offices. The new 2 percent threshold also exceeds the number of votes the WFP received in the 2016 presidential contest.
In New York, the WFP has faced criticism in recent years for giving its endorsement to candidates like Cuomo, who never helped the party fully achieve its goals.The last endorsement for the governor, in 2018, came after the WFP initially backed his primary rival, the actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, a move that may have led to the punishing change in the ballot rules.
In a move described as “Trumpian” by some, the increased thresholds were originally adopted under the guise of a commission designed to overhaul the state’s campaign finance system last fall. When a judge deemed the commission unconstitutional, the changes were ultimately enacted as part of the state budget this spring.
The last two years have led to a shakeup within the WFP as well, with new leaders at both the national and local levels. Maurice Mitchell took over as National Director of the WFP from its founder, Dan Cantor, in 2018. In New York, late last year, Sochie Nnaemeka took over as the party’s state director, replacing Bill Lipton.
“I think it bodes well for the party to revisit their roots and their mission statement, which I think they deviated from, in the past two or three elections dealing with Andrew Cuomo,” said Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University.
But Greer said the WFP faces a challenge in convincing people who might identify as Democrats that they should cast their ballot on the WFP line. While all votes for Biden Harris, whether on the Democrat or WFP lines, count the same, “if I'm a Democrat why wouldn't I just vote Democrat?”
It’s something Nnaemeka, New York’s new WFP state director, was ready and willing to answer. She said too often voters in the two-party system were left to choose between the lesser of two evils, voting against the bigger threat.
The WFP line, she argued, allows New Yorkers to vote for something as they vote to defeat President Trump, citing a response to the climate crisis, fully funding education, housing for all, and well-paying jobs.
“We offer the ability for a broad coalition of voters who are looking for an agenda that speaks to the crises of our moment,” Nnaemeka said.