In 2010, New York State voter turnot was among the lowest in the nation. Some suggest that this is partly to blame on the fact that 26% of our voters are unable to participate in the Democratic or Republican primary process. The New York State Constitution empowers the legislature to make laws relating to the election of candidates for parties.
What are “Party Primaries”?
In a general election, parties each put forward one candidate to vie for votes. Parties each select their candidates through one of several ways: caucus, convention, nomination by party leaders, or through primary elections.
In New York, parties choose candidates through party primaries. Two or more candidates from a party compete for voter support, with the winner running in the general election.
Broadly speaking, primaries are either “open” or “closed.”
In an open primary, registered voters may vote in one party primary, regardless of their party affiliation. A registered Democrat, therefore, could vote in a Republican primary, but not in both Democratic and Republican primaries.
In a closed primary, to vote in a party primary, a voter must be registered with that party. Thus, only a registered Democrat may vote in a Democratic primary.
Each has advantages and disadvantages.
While open primaries allow all voters to participate, regardless of party affiliation, the also permit “crossover voting” and “party crashing”.
In the former, party members may vote in another party’s primary, helping to elect the candidate who best reflects their own views, thus hurting participation in their own party’s primary. In the latter, party members may vote in another party’s primary in the hopes of selecting the weaker candidate, thus providing their own party a stronger position in the general election.
Closed primaries avoid these problems, but also preclude participation from independent voters and may in fact radicalize candidate choices by forcing party candidates to appeal solely to their base.
Registration for Primaries
If voting in primary elections hinges on party affiliation, registering voters becomes of central importance for candidates.
In New York, you can change your party affiliation by indicating the change on a voter registration form. However, you cannot change your affiliation and vote in your new party’s primary in the same year. The change in affiliation will go into effect one week after the general election.
Finally, the last day to change your affiliation is the same as the last day to register for the General Election (25 days prior to the date of the General Election).
Some states allow independent voters to change their affiliation and vote with the new party on election day, and others permit all voters to switch party affiliation on election day and vote in the primary.
Why New York Should Move to Open Primaries
By requiring New York voters to be registered with a party to vote in that party’s primary election, and by further demanding that they wait one year upon changing their party membership to vote in a primary, we exclude thousands from one of the most important processes in our democracy: selecting the candidates to represent us.
New York must act now, deciding either to A) implement open primaries, or B) relax registration requirements, allowing voters to change their party affiliation and vote with that party on election day.
State of New York Election Law (2013)
(f) Notice that political party enrollment is optional but that, in order to vote in a primary election of a political party, a voter must enroll in that political party, unless state party rules allow otherwise.
11 states have open primaries for elections: AL, AR, GA, HI, MI, MN, MO, MT, ND, VT, WI
11 states have closed primaries for elections: DE, FL, KS, KY, ME, NJ, NM, NV, NY, PA, WY
4 states have a "top two" primary system: CA, LA, NE, WA
24 states use a "hybrid" primary election system: AK, AZ, CO, CT, IA, ID, IL, IN, MA, MD, MS, NC, NH, OH, OK, OR, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WV