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Democrats seek to make it easier to vote in party primaries

The plan would enable voters in another party to become Democrats up to 60 days before a primary.

ALBANY — Progressives who were blocked from voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders in New York’s presidential primary in 2016 for missing an enrollment deadline won’t face the same problem next year under a plan approved by party leaders Wednesday.

The plan would allow voters in another party to become Democrats up to 60 days before a primary, enabling them to vote. If the voter wasn’t already enrolled in a party, he or she could join the Democratic Party as late as 25 days before a primary.

In 2016, some progressives were angry when they discovered they had to have joined the Democratic Party in October 2015 in order to vote in the April 2016 presidential primary. 

“We are always espousing many different ideals like opposing voter suppression, so we can’t have that in our party,” said Assemb. Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan). “It is really important to make sure, as a party, that we see many different viewpoints.”

The move, intended in part to heal rifts in the party, represents a compromise with the Democrats' progressive wing.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, leader of the state party, has faced Democratic primaries from his left in the last two elections. Although he won each handily, the 2018 and 2014 primaries spotlighted some discontent with the direction of the party and with Cuomo, who worked closely with the former Republican majority in the State Senate.

“One of the things the governor was very clear about was that he wanted the state party to bring the temperature down,” said state and Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs.

“He wanted me, as chair, to bring people together and try to get a more cooperative atmosphere going,” Jacobs said after a party meeting Wednesday. “He’s a progressive governor … and yet in our own party we have had such difficulty with progressives.”

Jacobs said the Democratic National Committee told the state committee it had to loosen its enrollment rules, which were the strictest in the nation.

“They were the worst in the country,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group of prior Democratic Party rules. “The parties are more interested in controlling primaries than the public interest.”

But Jessica Proud, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, called the enrollment changes, “another blow to Cuomo’s grip on power and proves that, once again, the radical wing of the Democratic Party is running the show in Albany.”

Also Wednesday, the state Democratic Committee voted to move the presidential primary to April 28, 2020. That would be 10 days earlier in the campaign season and make New York part of a big primary day nationwide that would include voting in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware.

The State Legislature, controlled by Democrats, and Cuomo are expected to approve the new party rules.

“These are steps in the right direction,” said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), chairman of the Assembly’s Election Law Committee.

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