By Sharon Bailey Jun 21, 2022
Early voting at designated polling places in New York began Saturday and will continue through June 26, two days before the June 28 primary. The gubernatorial race is the big competition on the primary ballot this year. Gov. Kathy Hochul faces Democratic challenges from U.S. Rep Tom Suozzi and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. The four Republican contenders include former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, political advisor Andrew Giuliani, businessperson Harry Wilson and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin.
Unaffiliated voters in the Empire State ineligible to participate primary elections. Only voters registered with a political party may vote to select a party nominee. New York is one of 14 states as well as Washington D.C. in which at least one political party administers closed primaries for congressional and state-level elections.
An amendment to the state election law is required to establish open primaries for all congressional and state elections. NY A07309 was introduced in a 2017 legislative session but died on the vine in December 2018.
The most recent voter registration data can be found on the New York State Board of Elections website. As of February 21, 2022, The statewide totals are as follows: 11,905,886 total active registered voters, 5,929,375 statewide active registered Democrats, 2,645,799 statewide active registered Republicans and 2,713,757 statewide active unaffiliated voters. Conservative, Working Family and other registered parties make up the difference.
All registered voters do not vote. I know. However, if unaffiliated voters could participate in elections, it could make a difference in voter turnout, particularly in some local races where the winner of the primary becomes the default elected official. There are 28,520 active unaffiliated voters in Niagara County. If unaffiliated voter could vote in primaries, the impact on local elections could be significant.
Open primaries could improve the connection between elected officials and voters by coalescing along similar ideological interests. There are plenty of voters who think that elected officials work in a philosophical silo and are out of touch. Increasing the number of potential voters might increase the chances of selecting a more centrist nominee accountable to voters’ quality of life interests rather than political party concerns.
Maine and Maryland laws stipulate that political parties can determine who can take part in primary elections. Connecticut, Oklahoma, and South Dakota provide a type of hybrid model. Only voters registered with a political party can vote in primary elections, however the election law statute in each of these states grants political parties the authority to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in primary elections. Republicans in Connecticut, Oklahoma and South Dakota have granted unaffiliated voters the ability to participate in primary congressional and state-level races.
The number of unaffiliated or “Blank” voters grows every year and a potential two million voters should not be ignored. Perhaps a Democrat and A Republican will cosponsor a new bill for open primaries in New York. It would be a start. Let me dream.
Sharon Bailey is a Niagara Falls resident. You can email her at email@example.com