WSJ: New York Democrats Aim to Make Presidential Primary More Accessible

New York Democrats Aim to Make Presidential Primary More Accessible

State Legislature working on bills to move registration deadline closer to primary date

By  Jimmy Vielkind

May 19, 2019 7:00 p.m. ET

New York’s Democratic presidential primary is still almost a year away, but a key debate over who gets to vote in it will take place Wednesday at a labor hall in Albany.

The New York State Democratic Committee is holding a special meeting to consider the rules for the primary, which it hopes to hold on April 28, 2020. As part of the formal selection process for delegates the committee plans to take up this week, it will consider amendments that would let more voters participate in selecting the Democratic nominee, Party Chairman Jay Jacobs said.

Under current law, in order to cast a ballot in a party primary, a voter must enroll 25 days before the preceding year’s general election. That would be more than six months before the primary, and eight months before the party primaries for congressional and state legislative contests, which are held in June. Party leaders are talking about moving it to within two months.

Just under 2 million Democrats voted in the 2016 New York presidential primary—in which Hillary Clinton bested U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders—out of 5.8 million members of the party at that time. The number of enrolled Democrats has increased since then, statistics from the state Board of Elections show, but about a fifth of the 12.7 million registered voters in New York are not registered in a party.

New York’s enrollment deadline is the earliest of any state. Some states have open primaries that let any voter cast their lot for a party’s nominee. Jay Bellanca, co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network, said the early deadline has disenfranchised New Yorkers who decide they want to vote in primaries but didn’t register earlier.

“Let the party grow,” Mr. Bellanca said. “Let people who want to be Democrats declare they’re Democrats and vote in the elections.”

NYPAN is pushing for an amendment that matches a bill pending in the state Legislature moving the deadline for enrollment to 25 days before a primary election. Mr. Jacobs said he believed that would be too cumbersome to administer—particularly because New York law now allows early voting starting nine days before an election.

Mr. Jacobs is proposing a 60-day gap, which he said was in line with New Jersey and Colorado. He also proposes that people cannot switch parties for two years, to prevent “party raiding”—a practice where members of one party switch to the other to tip its primary choices.

Mr. Jacobs said he has shared his proposal with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the state Legislature, who will ultimately craft a law based on the input of Democrats and Republicans. Rules adopted by the party committee are nonbinding, unless the party opts to conduct (and pay for) its own primary election—something Mr. Jacobs said it was not in a position to do.

Spokespeople for Mr. Cuomo and Democrats who control the state Senate did not comment; a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said its ruling Democrats would review the matter.

stephen carpineta