Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Nearly 15,000 Long Island voters who changed parties since late last year because they want to “feel the Bern,” back “The Donald” or help make or break Hillary Clinton are likely to be sorely disappointed if they try to vote in the April 19 presidential primary.
Those who switched parties after Oct. 9, 2015, will be able to vote in the primary, but not in the party they thought they joined. They can only vote in the primary of the party they thought they had left.
This may be confusing for New York voters who have been watching the ongoing presidential battle, where people in some states simply show up for caucuses to vote. In states with early voting, residents have weeks to vote, and in some states voters can cast ballots in any party’s primary.
In an effort to defuse potential voter anger before primary day, Suffolk’s elections commissioners late last week sent warning letters to nearly 7,000 voters who switched parties after the deadline.
“We appreciate there are a lot of galvanized opinions and based on what we’ve seen in other states we expect a large turnout,” said Nicholas LaLota, Suffolk’s Republican elections commissioner. “We want to make sure we can accommodate qualified voters who come to the polls and make sure those who are not qualified are not surprised on primary day.”
2,382 needed for nomination
1,237 needed for nomination
The board’s letter notes that “New York is one of 11 states with ‘closed’ primaries in which residents who are registered in a party can vote in that party’s primary.
“Since you submitted your change of enrollment . . . after the legal deadline, your change of party . . . will become effective seven days after the general election day 2016.” That means their first presidential primary vote will have to wait until 2020.
Making the situation even more incongruous is the fact that newly registered voters in Nassau and Suffolk who signed up as late as March 25 can cast primary ballots in whatever major party they joined. Over the last three months, those new voters total 22,137 — 13,378 Democrats and 8,759 Republicans.
David Gugerty, Nassau’s Democratic elections commissioner, said 7,829 voters signed up too late to switch parties.
But there’s a complication that has given Nassau election officials pause about sending out warning letters. At the same time the presidential primary is going on, Nassau also has a special election in the 9th State Senate District for the seat vacated by former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was convicted recently on federal corruption charges. Skelos and his son, Adam, who was also convicted in the case, are appealing.
“We considered sending a letter,” Gugerty said. “But we’re concerned it could lead to more confusion or scare away people who are still eligible to vote in the special election,” if not the presidential primary.
LaLota said the state registration law was aimed at giving “the strongest possible” protections to minor parties from what is known as “party raiding,” where voters from a larger party switch to a smaller one “with a sinister intent” to take over.
The Suffolk Conservative Party in 2009 threw out 1,300 voters who were enrolled by the county Police Benevolent Association. The union wanted to deny renomination to Conservative Sheriff Vincent DeMarco after his deputies took over highway patrols from Suffolk County police.
However, such problems are more likely to occur in smaller primaries or party leadership fights, not in a presidential contest.
“Clearly, this was an unintended consequence,” Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who mainly works for Republicans, said of the late-registration problems. “There’s got to be a better way to doing it, but I’ll leave that for legal experts to figure out.”