Seems that many of my friends who share my outrage over the election laws recently instituted in Republican states are suddenly defending the Byzantine and highly restrictive election laws in New York.
“The rules are the rules,” I have been told. “Setting the rules and letting the contestants know what they are before the game starts? Totally fair.”
Voters aren’t contestants, and despite what Donald Trump might have to say, an election is not a game show or a reality TV show. You can vote with a gun permit but not with a photo ID issued by a state university? No problem, you knew the rules before the game started. 92 years old, no birth certificate? No problem, you knew the rules before the game started. They closed the motor vehicle offices in all the majority-black counties? No problem, you knew the rules before the game started. Who needs the Voting Rights Act as long as everybody knows the rules before the game started.
What are the rules in New York? You can’t make this stuff up. If you want to change your party enrollment, you send in the form to your county board of election. They place the form in a locked box, which is opened once each year. The deadline for getting your entry, I mean your enrollment change form, into the Board of Elections is no later than 25 days before the general election. The box is opened on the first Tuesday after the general election, and that’s when your party enrollment change is entered on your record. If you wanted to switch parties to vote in a 2016 primary, you needed to submit your form and get it in the sealed box no later than October 9, 2015.
Did I mention there are THREE primaries in New York this year? The presidential primary on April 19 was just the first one. There is a Federal primary (for Congress) on June 28 and a state and local primary on *September 13.*
To put it simply. If you want to change parties to vote for your cousin in the state and local primary on September 13, 2016, you need to get your party change form in the sealed box no later than October 9, 2015, slightly more than 11 months in advance.
New York county, town, and city elections are partisan events. Town supervisors, town council members, county legislators, all need to get on the ballot by winning a party primary or by running as an independent.
Folks outside of New York have never noticed this bizarre rule in the past, because presidential primaries are usually inconsequential. The state and local elections are what matters, particularly for the party leaders who keep tight control of the game. It’s not a one party thing, either, as the Nassau Republicans are just as tight a machine as the Bronx Democrats. They want tight control of who votes. They don’t like a sudden and unpredictable influx of stray voters. They don’t like surprises.
So, it’s not about Hillary or Bernie or Donald or Ted. It’s all about who can get on the ballot for Town Council in the Town of Oyster Bay or for the 65th Assembly District in Manhattan.
I spent ten years working on local newspapers, reporting on local politics in New York. I know the rules. They are the most restrictive in the nation, designed as a barrier between outsiders and the ballot. I don’t have standing, as I have been voting in Massachusetts for 26 years. However, as an American, I do have a say in how states should handle federal elections, and I hope someone challenges the New York laws under the federal Voting Rights Act.