WAll Street Journal: New York’s Voter Suppression

Closed primaries and early registration deadlines make it hard to cast a ballot that counts.

By Howard Husock

Jan. 15, 2024 4:31 pm ET


originally published in the Wall Street Journal

Some Americans never register to vote. Those of us who do usually register just once. But over the past two years I’ve registered three times. I might even do it again—for the reason progressives say they endorse: I want my vote to count.

In New York, where I live, it isn’t easy. My deep-blue state engages in a practice it ascribes to less enlightened jurisdictions: voter suppression. As anyone who follows presidential primary politics knows, states and political parties make their own election rules. That’s why independent voters can cast ballots in the New Hampshire primary after choosing a party on Election Day. It’s why voters in Ohio, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, can take either party ballot when they vote. 

States can be broadly grouped as either open or closed primary states. New York is one of 15 closed congressional primary states and one of 24 closed for presidential primaries—and it’s tightly closed. New York is a state where Democratic primaries often decide election results, in part because nonaffiliated voters are shut out of primaries. 

The idea of one party’s voters messing around in another party’s primary understandably bothers some. Others think independents should suck it up and choose a party. But here’s where New York’s disenfranchisement really kicks in—and has led to my multiple registrations. To participate in the June 25 congressional primary, a voter must affiliate with a party four months earlier, by Feb. 15. New Yorkers may renew a driver’s license online, but affiliating with a political party requires printing out and mailing in a form to a county board of elections.

Closed primary rules and early registration deadlines force voters to think strategically. Will the Republican presidential primary in New York be competitive? In December I thought it might be, so I switched my affiliation to Republican—having previously decided that Democratic primaries would likely be where the action is in the Empire State. But then my congressman, Jamaal Bowman, pulled that Capitol Hill fire alarm and called for an early Gaza cease-fire. This set the table for a serious Democratic primary opponent, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a proven vote-getter. Time to become a Democrat again. 

But now I’m thinking. What if the Republican primary turns out to be competitive? What if Iowa or New Hampshire delivers a January surprise? Will I regret my switch? Will there be time to switch again before Feb. 15?

Voters in most other states don’t have to decide which ballot they want to take months in advance. Open Primaries, a national voter advocacy group, reports that New York has the worst registration deadline in the country, with most states ranging from 15 to 90 days. The organization’s president John Opdycke says that “there are bad voting laws, terrible voting laws and then there’s New York, where the laws are systemically designed to disenfranchise.”

Among states with an open primary is Georgia, which progressives targeted in 2021 for its supposedly disenfranchising voting laws. The controversy led Major League Baseball to pull its All-Star game out of Atlanta and prompted Joe Bidento denounce Georgia’s law as “Jim Crow for the 21st century.” Mr. Opdyke—who is no conservative—points out that “the Georgia laws are much better in every way than New York’s, where you have to choose a party before the race even shapes up.”

New York is guilty not only of erecting barriers to voting—but of hypocrisy as well. In June of 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul appropriated the name of a true voting rights hero in signing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, which her office described as guarding against “voter suppression, dilution and intimidation.” She preened, “At a time when the very foundation of our democracy is under threat, New York is leading the nation with new laws protecting the fundamental right to vote.”

Just so long as you choose a party four months in advance, she might have added. With Feb. 15 looming, and information inevitably limited, I now have to decide whether to re-register to vote one more time. Don’t count on New York to let voters know about the deadline.

Mr. Husock is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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