Thousands are expected to flock to Washington Square Park this evening for a Bernie Sanders rally, but many of those in attendance, especially millennial NYU students, will not be able to cast their ballot for any candidate in the New York primary. The Empire State is one of dozens that hold a strictly closed primary voting process, where only those registered with a party may vote in its primary election. The deadline to register to a political party is so far in advance of the election that even Donald Trump’s children are unable to vote on April 19. New York State must reform voter registration rules to give all voters a voice in the election.
Nationally, Independents outnumber both Republicans and Democrats, and are crucial to any candidate seeking the White House. Independents are also crucial to securing the future: millennials are more likely to be Independent than any other age demographic. Deserting them in the primary only hurts the major parties and weakens their chances in the general election, as well as dissuades future voters from political activity. This is a particularly problematic in New York; of more than 11 million registered voters, over three million are Independents or with a third party. Nearly 30 percent of all New Yorkers, many of them millennials, have no say in choosing the country’s nominees for president.
For all the importance of Independent voters, New York State voter registration laws lean heavily against them. Unlike nearly a dozen other states, New Yorkers cannot register to vote on election day. New voters had to have registered by March 25, and Independent and third-party voters had to have changed parties by October of 2015. The electoral race in October was very different: there were over a dozen Republican contenders, and there had yet to be a single Democratic debate. To expect Independent voters to have determined which party to vote for that early in the campaign season is simply prejudicial. The early registration is especially arduous when taking into account that primary voters often decide who they will vote for within the last week before a primary. With a primary that excludes Independents and a registration system that discriminates against them, New York State primary voting combines the worst of all worlds.
Candidates have tried to work around New York’s onerous registration system, campaigning on college campuses to register new voters before the March cut-off. But despite this effort, only about 26,000 new voters have registered in the last year, compared to nearly 9 million party-registered voters. Voter registration is an issue for New York legislators, not candidates, to fix. Creating needless roadblocks to voting, especially those which disproportionately affect the youngest Americans, is antithetical to the democratic process that all voters — Democrat, Republican, Independent and otherwise — hold dear.
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