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FROM THE DESK OF TOM SCHILIRO – New York State Primary Election Law: A Lesson in Confusion

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New York State Primary Election Law: A Lesson in Confusion

The recent New York State Presidential primary caused a wave of confusion among Suffolk County voters. First off, it is gratifying that this Presidential cycle has seen record numbers of voters across the country participate in the picking of a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. We here in Sufffolk County were no different. The excitement to vote was evident by the large number of residents who showed up Tuesday, April 19th.
The sad fact was over 17,000 Suffolk residents received letters this week that their vote did not count on who they wanted for a Presidential candidate. When these motivated concerned residents showed up to vote they had to vote by affidavit because they were not enrolled in the political party of the candidate they wanted to vote for. New York State law requires that you MUST be registered in that party which is holding the primary election. Primary elections which occur quite frequently for all offices, including for the President, are for party enrollees ONLY. All others need not show up.
Seems a bit UNdemocratic and not fitting to our great standard of democracy where all are encouraged to participate. The confusion on party of the 17,000 stemmed in the belief that many States allow for crossover votes from one part to the next. All those states require is that the voter declare which party primary they intend to vote in and hence cast a vote. Many of those disenfranchised Suffolk voters I suspect were avid watchers of previous primaries and set out to cast their choice here in New York.
Well it wasn’t going to happen as New York Election Law says no. In the case of the April 19th primary, you had to be registered in either the Democratic or Republican Parties. To make matters worse, you could not switch or join either of these parties unless you did so before October of last year. New York says no last minute or last half a year changes allowed. Pretty archaic if you think about it. Further confusion, according to the law, if you were a new voter and never voted then you were lucky, you could have registered in either of the major parties only 30 days prior to April 19th. That voter would not have been one of the unlucky 17,000.
Not to confuse the matter any more, but here goes, New York State has eight certified ballot access Political Parties. A voter can register in any one of those eight parties and also sign a party petition as a registered member. If the newly minted Womens Equality Party was having a primary, let’s say to choose a candidate for State Assembly, then only members of that party would be eligible to vote. As of now there are only 44 members enrolled in that party in the entire population of 1.6 million people in Suffolk County. If a primary existed in an Assembly District there could conceivably be two votes cast which would comprise a 100% of the vote. That primary however would cost the Suffolk County Board of Elections thousands of dollars to run an election, hire poll inspectors, machines, locations, etc. An absurd situation at the very least.
We need Election Law reform that allows for greater voter access to primary elections similar to many laws in other states. Not allowing for party changes to take place for months after a voter requests such a change must be amended. New York State should consider an open primary system that allows voters to vote in the primary of their choice without prejudice. Voters are the key foundation to an election and the laws must reflect this. If this was the case in April, then 17,000 Suffolk residents would not have received official notification that they wasted their time. Keep in mind that Congressional Districts 1 and 3 on June 28th will be having a primary election. Democrats and Democrats only can vote in the 1st congressional district and Republicans and Democrats can vote in the 3rd congressional district. You must be registered in the respective political party. If it seems confusing it is!
Tom Schiliro lives in Manorville and is the host of the LINEWS radio program “Eye On Crime” and can be heard on 103.9 FM @ 2 pm on Sundays. Any questions or comments can be addressed by email to saddlerockofny@aol.com, care of Tom Schiliro.

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