If you follow political news you probably saw a story earlier today about how two of Donald Trump’s adult children didn’t register in time to vote for their dad in the New York primaries. At first it’s kind of funny. It’s easy to mock a candidate (or their family) for these minor mistakes. I’m guilty of making fun of Hillary Clinton’s inability to swipe a MetroCard and Bernie Sanders thinking NYC still has subway tokens. But after the initial LOL about Ivanka registering too late I realized this wasn’t a one-off celebrity mistake, this is a pervasive problem. The state of New York has rules that suppress the vote in primary elections.
When we talk about voter suppression in 2016, most of the conversation focuses on voter ID laws passed by Republican legislatures that tend to target poor and minority voters. That certainly is part of the story, but that narrative misses many other types of voter suppressions. And my home state of New York is pretty guilty of the others types.
For starters in 2016 there are three separate New York State primaries. The Presidential primaries, the Federal primaries and the State and Local primaries. There is only one reason why a state would have so many primaries, and it isn’t because paying poll workers serves as an economic stimulus. Multiple primaries exist to make it harder to vote. And by making it harder to vote, it benefits the party loyalists (sometimes referred to as the establishment) who make it to the polls for every election. For all three of these elections I am gonna be out of NYC and registering voters at a music festival. That means I’m gonna have to request absentee ballots three different times. Three separate primary elections aren’t much of an inconvenience for my grandmother, she is gonna vote every time. And nothing against my grandmother, I love her and she is a brilliant and caring woman (I love you Bubby). But do I want my politicians elected primarily by retirees? Not really. I want everyone to vote.
If the only way New York suppressed the vote was by having multiple primaries I would be ticked off, but not enough to write this post. What upset me the most is our closed primary laws. Closed primaries themselves aren’t the worst. Slightly more than half of all states have closed primaries. And that makes some sense, parties want their party members to pick candidates and don’t want any meddling in their selection process.
But New York is the ONLY STATE where you need to declare your party affiliation the calendar year before the primaries. So if you wanted to switch party registration to vote in the 2016 primaries you needed to update your registration by early October 2015. Did you know who you were gonna vote for 6 months ago? I certainly didn’t. I barely knew what state I was gonna be living in 6 months ago.
For comparison, the deadline across the Hudson River in New Jersey for party declaration is going down this week. Less than two months from the Garden State’s primaries. I still wouldn’t want to live in Jersey, but for once I’m jealous of the state I jokingly call America’s armpit. (I kid, it’s a great state with awesome people and great food. But for real, it smells bad when I drive through the industrial parts. And I know NYC smells bad too. But it’s a different bad smell, and when you are the center of the world you don’t need to smell perfect. I bet Leo DiCaprio doesn’t put on deodorant every day).
Back to New York’s voter suppression – I’ve had to tell dozens if not hundreds of potential voters at shows that, yes, the deadline to register has not passed, but the deadline to change parties went down last year and they were out of luck. That isn’t good for democracy. That isn’t good for restoring faith in any system. And in this election, I bet it’s going to wind up disproportionately harming outsider candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both of them are newcomers to their respective parties who have broad appeal to independents. So not only are the independents shut out, but many folks who actively wanted to join a party to cast a ballot for Trump or Sanders have been shut out as well. Folks like Eric and Ivanka Trump.
In addition to all of these institutional barriers to voting in the New York primaries there has been an influx of folks who believe they have been unjustly purged from the Empire State’s voting rolls. Come next Tuesday I think we are going to see a ton of people talking about how badly New York botched this election.
New York is still my favorite place in the world. I’m still gonna vote here. But damn does this make me wanna channel James Murphy and say, “New York I love you but you’re bringing me down.”