You may be aware that we have a presidential election coming up next month. The last day for New Yorkers to register to vote in that election is this Friday. You should do that. And if you’ve been keeping tabs on New York City politics, you might also be aware that we have a mayoral election next year. No one has declared if they’re running yet, and honestly, things won’t really get started until spring. However, the deadline to register to vote in the primaries for that election is also this Friday. Why? Allow us to explain.
As DNAinfo helpfully pointed out, thanks to decades-old archaic rules meant to keep incumbents in office, New York state deadlines for registering to vote in primaries take place almost a year in advance.
If you move to New York in the meantime, or are registering to vote for the first time, you have until August to register to vote in the primary (do that here).
However, if you’re already registered to vote, but didn’t select a political party because you’re too cool or jaded to do that, you can’t change your party preference past this Friday. Supporters of Bernie Sanders this past spring learned of these obscenely early deadlines the hard way.
“No voters are really thinking about next year’s election in any way, shape, or form, much less anticipating that they need to choose a party if they haven’t already done so,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, an organization that has been pushing for the state’s political parties to change their outdated registration system. “This system is based on a pre-modern, pre-telephone, paper-driven process. We should be breaking down barriers to voting, making them more accessible and not more difficult.”
Like most voting laws, the insanely premature deadline is meant to protect office holders, who, in New York State, run either unopposed or without a primary challenger anyway. The New York City mayoral race, and especially its Democratic primary, has been wildly competitive over the past few years in contrast. Voters wary of putting a party affiliation to their name might find an unpleasant surprise waiting for them when they finally do come around to wanting to vote for a Democratic candidate (once the candidates have even announced they’re running).
“Placing such an unacceptably long deadline on being able to change your party registration only discourages people from voting,” Lerner told the Voice.
It’s not only the political parties themselves that fight against any reforms to the process, but also party members who feel protective of their roles. “When Common Cause took a very strong position back in April against these types of deadlines, we had members emailing us to say they didn’t have a problem with this. People don’t want other people voting in a primary if they’re not really affiliated with their party, or cares about the party,” Lerner added.
While a later deadline might be a simple solution, while still offering some of the exclusivity the party faithful enjoys, many have called on New York to adopt an open primary. In an age of insurgent candidates on both sides of the aisle, like Sanders and Trump, that might be too big of a leap for the political machines to take. In any case, the number of eligible voters who are actually casting ballots is abysmally low. New York edged out Louisiana to be the state with the second-worst voter turnout this primary season.
“The truth of the matter is that in any of the primary systems, we’re not seeing the very casual voter just popping in,” Lerner said. “”All voters will be confronted with the candidates that the majoritarian candidates are nominating. If we’re going to have ballots that are dominated by majoritarian parties, there ought to be more of an ability for people to choose who’s actually on the ballot.”
Until that glorious day then, remember to register with a party by this Friday so you can vote next September for de Blasio, or maybe Stringer, or Jeffries, or… Dr. Zizmor? It’s going to be a long year, anything can and probably will happen!