Voting issues raised in the wake of last month’s New York presidential primary are very big and very basic.
Even if each of the 18,305 provisional ballots tossed aside in the counting process on Long Island was rightfully ruled void under state law, their final disposition remains a huge deal.
Thousands of people showed up to vote April 19 for (or against) a candidate, but were found not to be signed up with the Democrats or the Republicans. They were given affidavit ballots to be counted later. All but 10 percent of these were rejected in the counting process that followed.
A key first question is whether citizens shouldn’t have made it their business to know how they are registered. New York, after all, is one of only 11 states that closes its primaries to nonparty members.
Every year, some voters are surprised to discover they were registered with the Independence Party when they had thought they had enrolled as nonparty independents.
Other citizens — even if well-informed in other ways — didn’t realize they had only until Oct. 9 of last year to change party affiliation in time to vote in this year’s primaries.
In most other states, Republicans or independents could choose between Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Democrats, or even Green Party members, could cast ballots for Donald Trump or his recent rivals.
Would such an open system be fairer?
Well, if enough Democrats voted for Ted Cruz to stop Trump and sow GOP chaos, a majority of loyal Republicans would have good reason to gripe.
Clinton Democrats might have a beef of their own if right-wingers were allowed to vote for Sanders in hopes that a self-declared socialist could then lose the general election to the GOP.
The flip side is that a closed system could allow party bosses to stave off the kind of populist revolts we’ve seen this year.
The fact remains that on April 19, many New Yorkers showed up to vote — lots of them clearly excited by the candidacies of Sanders and Trump — but their votes did not count.
Image-makers call that bad optics — especially in a nation where the civic-conscious say it’s your hard-fought right and duty to vote and that every vote counts.
A tougher question: If the parties really are private organizations that accept private funding, why are taxpayers picking up the tab for their internal contests and not just funding those elections in which all citizens can participate?
Part of the answer is summed up in two words: White primaries. After 1890, Democratic Party organizations in the South allowed only whites to take part. To reform that blight, public agencies conducted the primaries.
Another issue arises from the fact that the major parties get to pick those who run election boards.
New York’s episode did not quite reach the proportions seen in Florida in 2000. But it shined a new light on how the system, dominated by the major parties, does and does not work.