Everyone knows the two major parties are the Democrat and Republican and in New York the majority of the voters are registered as Democrats. In some pockets of the big cities, the overlay of Democrats are as much as four or five times as many as Republicans. Some districts, even more.
So, how does a Republican win in such an unfavorable district? The answer is simple: It is somewhere between unlikely and impossible.
How then is how does the state ever elect Republican legislators at all, and where do they come from? Some districts are gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, usually in suburban or rural districts. Some districts are close in enrollments and the races can be competitive.
New York has a provision in election law that allows all votes to count and there are three minor party lines: Conservative, Working Families and Independence. How many votes a candidate gets on that line in the gubernatorial election determines the party's ballot position for the next four years. In the last election, the Conservative line came out with a substantial number of votes. While it didn’t add up to a majority to elect Republican candidate Carl Paladino, the number of votes cast on the Conservative line was much higher than the other two minor party lines.
For two consecutive gubernatorial elections, the Independence Party had Rochester billionaire Thomas Golisano as its candidate and he had the resources to launch credible campaigns. That gave him more votes than the Republican candidates who ran also with the endorsement of the Conservative Party. That put the Independence Party on the third line because it drew more votes than were cast on the Conservative line.
Several years ago, Herbert London ran for Governor only on the Conservative line and earned only 30,000 votes less than the Republican candidate received. Had he garnered more votes, the Republicans would have been relegated to the third line. It also would have caused a lot of confusion and job hunting in the state and county Board of Elections, since the top two political parties control who gets the commissioner’s jobs and selects the workers in the BOE.
(That's why Carl Paladino's threatened 2014 Conservative gubernatorial candidacy worries Republicans: he'll win more votes on the Conservative ballot line against a weak GOP candidate, elevate the Conservative Party and drop the Republican Party to minor party status.)
No Republican in the decades since the Conservative Party was founded has won statewide office without having the Conservative line. Some say the Conservative Party is the tail wagging the dog. In contrast, no statewide Democrat has ever had the Conservative line.
The former Liberal Party did not get the required 50,000 votes when Andrew Cuomo was the candidate for governor on only that line in 2002, so it was no longer a state recognized party. It was replaced later by the Working Families line.
While in some counties the Conservative Party will endorse Democrats as well as Republicans (or may run their own candidate in some races), the Working Families Party usually endorses Democrats. The Independence Party may endorse candidates from either side of the aisle, and often it ends up in a primary to see who will get the line.
In the districts that are competitive, the minor party lines are very important. Many voters could never cast a ballot for a Republican - but the same voter will vote for a Republican on the Conservative line. Additional votes gained on the minor party lines can be the margin of victory or defeat.
In the last elections in Erie County, the Conservative line was responsible for electing Judge Mark Montour to the State Supreme Court in an eight-county race. He did not get enough votes on his own party line, but the 14,662 votes on the Conservative line made the difference in the election.
The Erie County Conservative Party provided between 14,122 and 16,055 votes for the endorsed candidates in the county-wide races. Interestingly, that's more votes than there are registered Conservatives. Clearly, independents often vote for a candidate on the "C Line" rather than vote as a Republican or Democrat.
In all but one of the recent Erie County Legislature races, the Conservative line drew more votes than did the Working Families or Independence line. In some districts it provided more votes than the other two combined.
The Erie County Conservative Party is well organized and is known for being able to help the candidates they endorse. The Executive Committee sometimes cannot find candidates who are 100 percent conservative, but they are likely to be pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage, and adamant about lowering taxes and reducing the size of government.
Needless to say, the Conservative Party is far more significant in Upstate New York than it is in New York City. However, more people are joining the Conservative Party every year because the party is considered to be a party of principles and gives voters a chance to voice their approval for those principles to send a message to the two major parties. It will be very interesting to see how these principles play out in the governor’s race next year. The Conservative Party intends to be a player - just ask Carl Paladino.