A vote for progress

A Jefferson County voter casts their vote at a polling place in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Legislators in Albany last year wisely amended a provision of election law that overburdened voters who wanted to switch their political affiliation for upcoming primaries.

Under the previous rules, people had to change political parties at least six months prior to a specific primary. This was an absurd stipulation. Many residents were unaware of these deadlines and missed out on casting ballots in particular primaries.

The presidential primary this year is April 28 (but only for Democrats; there will be no Republican presidential primary). Anyone wishing to switch parties would have had to do so in October, under the former provision.

The new deadline to switch parties in the April 28 presidential primary is Friday. At two and a half months, that’s still a long period of time. But it’s much better than six months, so this represents progress.

Changing the rule on this faced stiff opposition for quite some time. The Democratic National Committee last year argued for amending state law to accommodate this.

Opponents of shorter deadlines or — heaven forbid — open primaries believe changing the rules would invite people of one party to vote for someone else in another party just to weaken the field for the general election. And this is certainly a possibility. Such individuals are known as raiders.

But Patrick F. Nelson, who ran for the Democratic nomination for the 21st Congressional District in 2018, demonstrated that this phenomenon doesn’t occur all that often. He researched this issue and found that the number of people raiding the primaries of rival parties was between 1.5 percent and 2 percent. The length of time required for switching parties in any state didn’t affect these numbers, he said.

It’s also important to remember that voters can still only cast ballots for candidates in a single party during a primary. While people may want to influence the outcome of a rival party, they would give up the chance to have their say in their own party.

Until it changed its rule, New York had the longest waiting period of any state in the nation between switching their party affiliations and being able to vote in a primary. So we welcome this new deadline and remind voters to be mindful of it. If they want to participate in the Democratic presidential primary but are registered with another party, they must make this change by Friday.

Last year saw another refreshing first in state election law. Primaries for federal officeholders were routinely held on different dates than those for state and municipal representatives. Now they must occur at the same time.

This change makes perfect sense. It’s less costly for counties to hold one primary for all offices up for election in a single year than two.

The trick is that the rule change doesn’t yet pertain to presidential primaries. As we previously stated, the Democratic presidential primary will be held April 28.

But the primaries for any other federal, state or municipal office would be held in June, if any are needed. The necessity of any primary will depend on how many people file for a particular vacancy, so we’ll have to wait and see if any primaries will have to be scheduled.

It’s good that the deadline for switching parties has been changed, but we need to align the presidential primaries and all the others. Doing so will save money, and who could argue against that?

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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(1) comment


Open elections, and elections where voters can switch parties easily, promote destructive crossover voting. Members of the party that has the local advantage could afford to cross over and nominate weaker candidates, thus widening that advantage. It happens. What you get then is weaker candidates, the same as you get with gerrymandered "safe" districts.

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