“The unfortunate thing is we are expecting a large number of people to be quite unhappy on April 19 because they won’t be able to vote for the candidate of their choice,” Lerner said.
A reliably blue state in November, New York has been basking in the national political spotlight as a result of its most competitive presidential primary in a quarter century. But the state’s sudden relevance has sparked a crush of angry phone calls to the offices of Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and other organizations from people who didn’t realize they needed to get their act together sooner. And these aren’t only first-time voters, Lerner said, but independents and party-switchers as well. “We’re hearing from a lot of really well-engaged, well-informed people who were not aware that the deadline was last October 9,” she said. “It’s the earliest one in the country, and there’s no justification for it.”
With polls giving him a comfortable lead on the GOP side, Trump might not need the two votes from his children. But the dynamic is a particular threat to Bernie Sanders, who needs to upset Hillary Clinton to keep alive his slim hopes for the Democratic nomination. He’s also handily defeated her among independents and younger, first-time voters in most of the primaries and caucuses. Sanders has not spoken about New York’s voting laws during his campaigning so far, said spokesman Karthik Ganapathy, who noted that the campaign had staff and volunteers registering Democrats in advance of the deadline for new voters.
But according to state Board of Elections data, just 14,000 new Democrats registered out of nearly 6 million voters statewide between November and April. “That’s not a lot,” said Barbara Bartoletti, the legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York State.
New York is far from the only state with a closed primary; most of the remaining states also shut out independent voters. And it’s not the only state to forbid same-day registration. But the sheer number of restrictions, along with the extremely early deadline for changing parties, are a big reason why the nation’s third most-populous state is annually at or near the bottom in voter turnout, according to advocates for election reform.
And while Governor Andrew Cuomo has embraced certain proposals for reform, like limited early voting and automatic registration through the DMV, major changes face little chance of passage in the state legislature. “Elected officials don’t want to change something they’ve gotten elected by, and they like that status quo,” Bartoletti said.
Republicans in the state Senate are particularly hesitant to embrace changes that might threaten their narrow majority. But Jackie Salit, the president of IndependentVoting.org, said Democrats are equally to blame for antiquated laws aimed at preserving the two-party system. “The political parties in New York have the state on lockdown, and they’re very committed to protecting that,” Salit said.