New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, at lectern, with...

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, at lectern, with from left, Sens. Kevin Thomas, Monica Martinez, Todd Kaminsky, Anna Kaplan, John E. Brooks, and James Gaughran at a news conference Tuesday in Garden City. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York Democrats have reached a deal on when voters can join a political party. They will shorten what has been the nation’s longest deadline to switch parties before an election to only 60 days, and 25 days when voters are not members of an established party.

Currently, a voter wanting to join a party or switch parties, which is most important in primary fights, had to do it by October of the previous year. That’s an eternity in elections.

Jay Jacobs, the state party chair, told The Point that delegates to a special Democratic committee meeting in Albany on Wednesday will approve the changes after a compromise was forged between traditionalists, who want to keep tighter control on who can vote, and progressives, who want the tent to be bigger.

In a heavily Democratic state, this is of great importance to members of the Working Families Party who want to influence a hot Democratic primary. In 2016, WFP members, who supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, were mostly shut out of voting in the presidential primary; nor could they pick a side in the 2018 gubernatorial primary between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon unless they had acted at least eight months earlier.

Here are the details:

  • Those registered in an official party -- Republican, Democratic, WFP, Conservative, Independence, for example -- can switch their affiliation up to 60 days before a primary.
  • Those who are registered voters but are unaffiliated will have more time to make up their minds. Their deadline is 25 days out. For unregistered voters, the time remains the same as it is under the current rules, 25 days before.

The changes will take place for the 2020 elections. The date is yet to be determined for state and congressional primaries, but the state’s presidential primary will be held on April 28. While it’s unlikely President Donald Trump will have a significant GOP challenger, it’s anybody’s guess for Democrats as to who would win New York’s 327 delegates, the second-largest batch in the party. That’s why making it easier to cast a primary ballot for the Democratic nominee is significant. For the record, California has the most party delegates with 495; coming in third is Texas with 262 delegates and Florida has 248.

The State Legislature, however, will have the last word on the time interval before a person can change parties again, which could be a factor influencing registration decisions. Jacobs supports a four-year rule, which means that a Republican who might want to switch to the Democratic Party to influence its choice of the 2020 nominee, would have to stay enrolled in that party for four years.

“Parties mean something, you either agree with their ideals or not,” said Jacobs. “People shouldn’t be jumping back and forth to chase a candidate.”

There is also strong support for only a one-year wait before voters could switch affiliations. The State Legislature is expected to vote on this corollary proposal by the end of June.

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