Thanks to the arcane voter registration rules of New York’s closed primary and various mess-ups by election officials, a lot of New York voters might be in for a long day.
One major problem is that the Empire State’s primary is closed, which means that only New Yorkers specifically registered as either a Democrat or Republican will be allowed to vote. Even worse, New Yorkers who wanted to switch their party affiliation — for example, from the Working Families Party, a force in New York progressive politics that backs Bernie Sanders, to Democrat to vote for the Vermont senator or from “Independent” to “Republican” to vote for Donald Trump — had to do so last October in order to be allowed to cast a ballot.
In other words, if you were registered as anything other than a Democrat on October 9th of last year and you want to vote for Sanders, you are out of luck.
First-time voters in the state had until March 25th to register as a Democrat or Republican to be allowed to vote, which is still a very early deadline. Therefore, it is very likely that young people or recent immigrants unfamiliar with the voting process, who were not aware of that rule, will be turned away when they show up at their precinct. Chances are they will not be happy.
These rules in themselves are a recipe for disaster, as both of the “populist” candidates have brought a lot of new people into the political process who normally would not have voted in the primary. But the problems of the New York primary do not end there.
Late last month, WhoWhatWhy wrote about a misleading election mailer that told voters “the Primary Election” would be held on September 13th. That date was actually not for the presidential primary but rather for a primary to choose local officials. An earlier message had misinformed voters that it would be held on September 28th.
While failing to identify “the” primary as a minor race that few voters were interested in could have been an honest mistake, many New Yorkers also claim that they were correctly registered as Democrats and Republicans but that their party affiliation had been switched without their knowledge. (We heard this many times — and one such person shared his own experience being flipped to Republican with WhoWhatWhy editor Russ Baker yesterday…while Baker himself requested an absentee ballot which had not arrived by Monday.)
The group Election Justice USA has filed a lawsuit on their behalf; the suit seeks to effectively make New York’s closed primary an open contest.
In an interview with The Young Turks, Shyla Nelson, the group’s spokesperson, said they had “over 300 substantiated reports” of voters having had their registration switched. She added that she has heard of 63,500 registered voters who were dropped from the voter rolls between November of last year and this month.
“The scale of this is probably bigger than any of us know at this time,” Nelson said, noting that other states have had similar problems.
Thomas Connolly, a spokesman for the New York state Board of Elections, acknowledged that the agency had received complaints about the voter registration problem. However, he said that when the claims were investigated, a mistake on the voter’s part was determined to be the cause in every instance.
One major problem appears to be an emergency law that was passed right after Hurricane Sandy swept through the East Coast in 2012. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who shared her story on social media, said she found out that she would not be allowed to vote because her party affiliation was removed in the aftermath of the storm.
“That year voters could attend any polling location so long as they signed an affidavit,” she wrote on Facebook, after having contacted her local Board of Elections. “Apparently, my affidavit removed my party affiliation without my knowledge (there wasn’t even a confirmation sent to my home. Really?) So if your polling location was affected by the hurricane I strongly advise you check your registration status, as it might have changed without your knowledge.”
If her story is symptomatic, then the voter purge might be “legal,” but it will undoubtedly lead to chaos throughout the Empire State as legitimate primary voters get turned away from the polls. At the very least, it is a law with very bad unintentional consequences that should have been remedied as soon as this problem was first identified.
New York’s primary rules and deadlines are among the most confusing and restrictive in the country. There is a good chance that the state will feel the backlash today.
If you are voting in New York today and are experiencing problems, please contact us.