Yesterday, I checked my voter registration status in a “just-to-be-safe” moment, gearing myself up for the primary election in two weeks. I did this, knowing that back in the Fall, I had re-registered from unaffiliated to Democrat in order to vote in the Democratic Primary. Feeling confident, I pulled up the New York State Board of Elections website, put in my information, and found this: Not enrolled in a party.
I knew there must be some sort of mistake and called, first, the Fair Elections Legal Network, who told me they had received a flood of similar calls that day. They then directed me to the State Board of Elections, who then directed me to the County Board of Elections, who was finally able to pull up my voter registration card. The conversation went something like this:
BOE: You are registered. But you missed the deadline to re-register your party affiliation.
Me: Huh? But I submitted that almost 6 months ago, in early November.
BOE: Yes, but the deadline to re-register is October 9th. That’s over 6 months ago. You can’t vote in the Primary.
So as it turns out, New York State has the longest change-of-party deadline out of all 11 states with closed primaries. And when I say the longest, I mean there’s no state that comes even remotely close. Florida? 29 days before the primary. New Mexico? 28 days. Maine? 15 days. I mean, in Nebraska, you can change parties the day of the goddamn caucus. A Kansas voter can actually vote in both the Democratic and Republican race if she is unaffiliated on the day of the primary! And here’s the kicker: the longest change of party deadline for any state other than New York is Delaware, and even that is 60 days prior to the primary.
Compare all of this to the fact that New York State is asking us to change our affiliation more than 180 days before the primary. We are the only state in which the deadline doesn’t fall within the same calendar year as the primary date, and we don’t even come close.
Which leaves me with one main question to the New York State Board of Elections, and, to some degree, the DNC:
Doesn’t this necessarily benefit established, hard line party voters? And doesn’t this – by design– prevent political outsiders from gaining a significant portion of New York’s high delegate count?
According to the BOE, this law was enacted because it prevents voters from jumping party lines just to interfere with the opposition’s primary. I can understand this logic. I have to admit that had the Democratic primary not been so interesting, I’d be tempted to cast a vote for Kasich in order to prevent Trump from gaining the nomination in New York. But all of that is made irrelevant by the very institution of a closed primary, anyway! 10 other states in this country apparently share the same fear, and have also instituted closed primaries for the same reason. They just don’t make it nearly as hard to switch parties within that system. New York’s prohibitive party change deadline is like the icing on the establishment cake.
The implications of this stupefying law have perhaps never been as significant as this election year. Based on the outrage reported by the Gothamist, (and – it seems- the number of calls made to the Fair Elections Legal Network yesterday) it’s expected that thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters – read: previously unaffiliated, Working Familes Party, or previously disengaged voters – will find themselves unexpectedly blocked from voting on Primary Day, in accordance with New York State law. And while I’m sure folks will point to the fact that the date that is published on the BOE website, and that the Bernie campaign designed an entire website to notify supporters about this deadline back in the Fall, we have to ask ourselves: what does it mean if New York State wants us to choose our candidate 6 months prior to a primary election? Doesn’t that directly undermine the entire campaign process?
For reference, by October 9th, the first debate hadn’t happened yet. The Working Families Party wouldn’t endorse Bernie for another two months. There was, still , rampant talk of Hillary being indicted for the e-mail scandal. Trump hadn’t announced that he would close down mosques as President. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan hadn’t hit its terrifying apex. This is to say nothing of the fact that primary elections wouldn’t start for another 4 months. Voting according to momentum, deeper knowledge of a candidate’s platform, and the growing viability of an outsider candidate be damned, says New York.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that maze-like election laws like these are the reason that voter turnout is so disastrous in New York state and nationwide. Protecting establishment politics sends the message to unlikely voters that this is a game they’ll never win – even when a candidate is successful at defying so many of the rules. States with high voter turnout and open primaries have been the crux of Bernie’s success so far. If previously disengaged or unaffiliated voters have been kept out of New York’s primary, and those of the remaining high-delegate, closed primary states, I fear this election has already been decided. And maybe that is exactly is point.