Tuesday’s the day — presidential primary day in New York. We haven’t had one like this in a long time. Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.
For starters, both party races matter. And both have a strong local flavor. Native son Donald Trump is the Republican front-runner, while Hillary Clinton, a transplanted New Yorker, leads Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders in the Democratic contest. The contenders, including Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich, have crisscrossed the region for the past two weeks.
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In 2008, the last time there was no incumbent president running, the Clinton-Barack Obama slugfest produced a 15 percent turnout of eligible voters. That was a record, a sad indictment of New York’s historic lack of participation. The GOP turnout was an abysmal 5.5 percent.
We have to do better, and indications are that we will. Trump and Sanders, in particular, have energized lots of voters, old and new, across the country and in New York. But we cannot have a repeat of what happened in other states with record turnout, where some residents stuck in long lines were unable to vote. Our local boards of elections must be ready.
That’s particularly true in the Nassau County State Senate district represented by Dean Skelos until his conviction last year on corruption charges. Democratic Assemb. Todd Kaminsky and attorney Chris McGrath, a Republican, are competing in a special election in which any registered voter in the 9th District can cast a ballot. But it’s a separate ballot from the presidential one. And the presidential primary ballot can be cast only by registered Democrats and Republicans. Anyone else is out of luck.
Confused? Frustrated? You’re not alone. New York’s election laws are deliberately byzantine and hopelessly outdated. The State Legislature must fix them before its session ends in June.
For starters, registering to vote is too difficult and leaves too many potential voters on the sidelines. Anyone wanting to change party affiliations or switch from unaffiliated status to cast a primary ballot Tuesday had to do so by Oct. 9 of last year. That’s how the major parties cling to power, and it’s way too early. Even though other states offer same-day registration, new voters in New York had to register by March 25. It’s a recipe for chaos in a high-voltage primary. Many would-be voters likely will be told they cannot participate. Anticipating problems, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and U.S. attorneys Preet Bharara and Robert Capers are opening hot lines Tuesday to handle complaints. That’s wise.
New York’s election difficulties don’t end there. Unlike in many states with early voting, you can only vote in person Tuesday in New York; starting the weekend before would accommodate people with long work schedules. And New York has three different primary dates this year for different races and levels of government. That’s unnecessarily confounding. It’s time to simplify.
If you are eligible to cast a ballot Tuesday, do it. But voting must be easier. New York must cast a wider net so as many residents as possible can exercise one of the birthrights of our democracy. — The editorial board