Thursday, June 15, 2017

New York Votes Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough

In February, New York State Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman introduced the New York Votes Act, a set of Bills to Protect and Expand Voting Rights in New York. Among other issues, the Act includes No-Excuse Absentee Ballots, Early Voting, and Automatic Voter Registration.

This Legislation is a Step in the Right Direction, but I worry that it ignores the most impactful Form of Voter Suppression facing New York: the State’s Closed Primary System.

About 3.3 million Independent and Unaffiliated Voters are locked out of New York’s Closed Primaries, more Voters than the Republican Party has enrolled in the entire State. This Closed System impacts over a million more New Yorkers than Automatic Voter Registration would.

Some argue that Independents aren’t technically “Disenfranchised” in New York because they still get to Vote in the General Election. But here’s the thing: New York Districts are so Uncompetitive, as a result of Partisan Gerrymandering, that over 90% of Elections are determined in the Closed Primary. By the time the General Election comes around, most Races have already been decided.

Hundreds of thousands of Voters were furious when they couldn’t Vote in the New York Presidential Primary last year. Many tried to Change their Party Registration ahead of time, and were still denied a Vote, due to this ridiculous rule, you have to change your Registration Six Months before the Closed Primary, the untenable lead time required.

This is exactly what contributes to lower Civic and Political Engagement, and in turn, Lower Voter Turnout. While Schneiderman originally proposed giving Voters the ability to Change their Party Affiliation, up to 10 days In-Person or 25 days by Mail ahead of the Closed Primary, the Final Version of the New York Votes Act will move the Deadline to Four Months ahead of a Primary. If the Bill passed, New York would only move from having the longest Wait Period to Change Party Affiliation to the Second Longest Wait. That’s not Reform.

And regardless of the Affiliation Deadline, the solution fails to address the Core reason why so many Voters are increasingly becoming Independent; they don’t want to Join a Party for any reason or duration of time. No one should have to Register with a Party in order to Vote in any Election. AG Schneiderman even acknowledged that in his report on Voting Reform, going as far as to recognize that: “Many of these individuals had no interest in affiliating with either of the two major parties” in order to vote. So why make them?

No wonder Independent Voting Rights Advocate Francis Barry wrote in a recent Op-Ed “New York is the worst state for independents, bar none.” And no wonder New York consistently Ranks among the Lowest in Voter Turnout in the Country. There is a strong connection between Closed Primaries and Low Turnout in the General Election. Four of the five States with the Lowest Turnout in 2016 have Closed Primaries. The five States with the Highest Voter Turnout in 2016 all use Open Primaries.

When you lock millions of Voters out of the Primaries, you can’t expect them to turn out for your Party in the General Election. That much is obvious. Independent voters want to be a part of the Political Process from day one, not ignored during the Primary or told “join a party if you want to vote.” The abysmal Voter Turnout in New York is a large part of the reason why Schneiderman introduced the New York Votes Act in the first place. The day the Legislation was introduced, he held a Press Conference at Federal Hall, where he stood in front of a crowd of Voting Reform Activists and declared his support for any Legislation that “makes it easier to vote.” So why does the New York Votes Act tout Automatic Voter Registration as the Centerpiece of Reform, rather than the single most impactful issue facing New York Voters, the very issue that has the biggest effect on Voter Turnout?

What good is Automatic Voter Registration for the General Election when the vast majority of Races are determined in the Primary? And why focus on it at the expense of over 3 million Voters who want to Vote but don’t want to be forced into choosing a Party?

Millions of Americans support forms of Open Primaries. The current system, in which Taxpayers Fund Closed Primaries that exclude huge swaths of Voters, is unsustainable. You cannot lock out the second biggest Voting Bloc in a State from participating in what almost always amounts to the only meaningful round of Voting. That’s not Democracy.

Primaries are Public Elections Funded by Taxpayers. Everyone should be allowed to Vote in them, regardless of Party Affiliation. As a Grassroots Activist and an Elected Member of the New York Independence Party for 14 years, representing Assembly District 73 as a County Committee, State Committee and Executive Committee Member, I am fed up with way the Country Runs its Elections. So I wrote AG Schneiderman, and this is his response:

Dear Mr. Drucker:

Thank you for your recent correspondence, and for making me aware of your support for amending the New York Votes Act to allow open primaries in New York State. I appreciate your views on this important issue. I will certainly keep these comments in mind as I continue to fight for your rights, and policies that will benefit all New Yorkers.

Thank you for contacting me to share your views, and I welcome your continued input.



I support Top-Two to Four Versions of an Open Primary:

1. A Top-Four version. This would send those Candidates that get at-least 25% of the Primary Vote to the General Election. So for any position, 2 to 4 Candidates could go to the General Election, with a minimum of 2.

The other Issue to handle is Primary Party Association. What ever method is used in an Open Primary, There should be two Ballots:

1. For Party Members that would include Voting for Party Officials, County and State Committee Members, and Presidential Electors.

2. For Non-Party Members without Party Election Candidates.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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richardwinger said...

A top-four qualifying primary is not a good idea. It would frequently result in general elections with three Democrats and one Republican, or three Republicans and a Democrat. That would not be fair to those two parties. One of them would be at a severe disadvantage relative to the other one.

It is basically irrational to let someone on the general election ballot based on his or her ranking in a preliminary vote. Someone might place third with 32%, or someone might place third with one vote. A candidate's ranking is therefore not an objective measurement of support; it is totally arbitrary, depending on how many other candidates are running. I am surprised people don't figure this out.

mhdrucker said...

With the 25% minimum requirement, would one vote make it? This isn't a Top-Four. The Candidates have to work to get to the General Election. For four, they each need 25%. So this is really a Top-One to Four.