Independence Party of New York accused of faking member numbers through voter confusion

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Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Lenora Fulani

Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Lenora Fulani attend the All Stars Project Charity Gala at Lincoln Center April 11, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Donald Bowers/Getty Images)

New York’s Daily News has mounted an editorial campaign against the Independence Party, a national organization with a strong presence in New York City. Accusing the organization of inflating its membership through intentional voter confusion, the News claims that voters intending to register to vote as “independent” are accidentally registering for the Independence Party en masse. According to the paper, these errors have allegedly fueled the group’s double digit spike in membership, which is now claimed to be  474,011 voters in New York State.

If accurate, this makes the Independence Party the state’s third largest recognized political group after the Republican and Democratic parties, giving it the power to place candidates on ballots.

If you have not heard of the Independence Party you are not alone. A poll conducted by the Daily News Editorial Board found that 85 percent of registered Independence Party members polled had not heard of it. New Yorkers are more likely to recognize one of the group’s most prominent members: Dr. Lenora Fulani.

Fulani is a controversial figure in area politics. An activist for issues such as ending gun violence, she also famously became the first African-American to appear on the ballot for president in all 50 states when she ran in 1988.

She also “wrote in 1989 that Jews ‘had to sell their souls to acquire Israel’ and, in the process, had to ‘function as mass murderers to people of color,'” according to The New York Times.

After Fulani made this statement, the Independence Party endorsed Mayor Bloomberg (who is Jewish) during his campaigns in 2001, 2005 and 2009. The Independence Party also granted Bloomberg its ballot line, another power garnered by being a recognized party. This gives voters additional places on a single ballot to select the same candidate.

“The party favored him with its ballot line in three runs for the mayoralty,” the Daily News concurs. “Twice, in 2001 and 2009, the number of votes cast for Bloomberg as the Independence Party candidate was larger than his margin of victory.”

It may be possible that by granting the mayor its ballot line, the Independence Party helped him win. (The Independence Party would later be implicated in an investigation of political operatives accused of stealing over one million dollars from Mayor Bloomberg.)

The News contends that the Independence Party has gained the ability to sway elections because of voter confusion. A significant portion of its registrants have confused “IndependENCE for independENT when choosing candidates on the party’s ballot line,” according to the paper.

Technically, registering as an independent means that such a voter wishes to remain unaffiliated with any party. Voters confusing “independence” for “independent” are unwittingly joining a party without realizing it.

New York election law forbids parties from branding themselves with names that could engender such confusion. The News cites a recent case in which a party was banned from using the word “conservation” in its name, because it too closely resembles “conservative,” which is in the name of the Conservative Party. The Independence Party has not been sanctioned in a similar manner.

If confusing “independence” and “independent” sounds unlikely, billionaire magnate Rupert Murdoch has made headlines for making this exact voter registration error.

“The media mogul had previously marked the wrong box on a voter registration form and instead of registering as an independent, he joined the Independence Party,” Dylan Byers noted on his Politico blog.

When correcting this mistake, “Murdoch selected his political party as ‘other’ in October, writing ‘Independent’ in capital letters next to the box he marked,” Byers wrote.

Business outlet Crain’s alleges that its story on Murdoch’s unintentional support of the Indepdence Party prompted him to update his registration accurately. Voters who do not have Murdoch’s high profile will not benefit from the intervention of media watch dogs.

Could the Independence Party have gained the power to make or break elections based on similar voter confusion on a larger scale?

TheGrio reached out to the Independence Party for comment regarding this allegation. Jacqueline Salit, who “ran [Mayor] Bloomberg’s three campaigns on the Independence Party line,” according to an email received from party spokesperson Sarah Lyons, responded with a statement made through Lyons countering the claims of the Daily News.

Salit counters the paper’s assertions that “the Independence Party [is] a ‘phantom’ which exerts ‘illegitimate influence’ and ‘must be stopped,’” as the release begins.

Salit also states that the party represents legitimate public interests. “Far from being a phantom, the Independence Party of New York City is organizing an untapped force, independent voters who just can’t stand the ways political parties jockey for power at the expense of the people. Partisan power brokers worry about the appeal of independent politics—and they should—because there’s no stopping it.

“In New York State over the past four years, Republican registration dropped by 6 percent, and Democratic registration was up by only 1 percent. Registration into the Independence Party grew by 16 percent,” the statement continued. “And, in the 2009 mayoral race, the Independence Party drew a record-breaking 150,000 votes for Mike Bloomberg. Independents are becoming organized to exercise their anti-partisan power in the 2013 mayoral and beyond.  That’s why we were founded, to give independents and political reformers a way to fight partisanship and politics-as-usual.  Apparently the Daily News doesn’t like that.”

The Daily News has followed up in its series on the Independence Party with an installment featuring another man who mistakenly registered for the group, although he is far less famous and powerful than Rupert Murdoch. The elderly gentleman who hails from Washington Heights in Manhattan did not want to join the Independence Party to express his independence.

The paper is reporting that Kenneth McClean, 77, had his name used by the party without his knowledge on a ballot for a county governing committee as a representative of the Independence Party. McClean was elected to this committee in Manhattan as an Independence Party member, yet claims to have no knowledge of this occurrence.

He had believed that he was registered as an independent, but had actually checked “Independence” by mistake.

“They are jerking people around,” McClean told the Daily News.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.

Corrections: This article as originally published attributed the statement of the Independence Party to Sarah Lyons. It has been updated to reflect that this statement was received through Lyons, but made by Jacqueline Salit.