On a chilly April day over a hundred protesters gather on the steps of a City Hall and repeatedly chant “Let us vote, let us vote”. You can hear the passion in the protesters voices but you can also sense a silent acknowledgement among them that they will not be able to cast their vote in the immediate future.
This may seem like a scene from a pre-Civil Rights era or a 1920s suffragette rally but, amazingly, it is not. I watched this happen yesterday in New York.
Because New York is a closed primary state with stringent voter registration laws over 3 million voters will be unable to participate in next week’s crucial primary election.
Any registered independent, third-party, or unaffiliated voter that wanted to vote for any of the major party candidates was required to register with that specific party by October 9th 2015. That was half a year ago and in a different calendar year!
This is such an esoteric technicality that Ivanka and Eric Trump, children of the Republican frontrunner and registered independents, are unable to vote for their own father because they missed the deadline to re-register. Just think about that for a second: two people who are related to a Presidential candidate and are constantly surrounded by political staff determined to gather every possible vote for that candidate, were unaware of the cut-off date.
So now Ivanka and her brother represents two less registered Republicans in New York which should be disappointing to all the Republican campaigns since Independent voters (3.2 million) already outnumber registered Republicans (2.7 million) in the state.
New York’s closed primary is also creating a headache for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders who just recently won the Wisconsin primary by capturing 72% of the independent vote. However, don’t be surprised if Bernie doesn’t come out strong on this issue because as Jackie Salit, President of independentvoter.org, points out: “if he were to strongly advocate for the rights of independent voters and for example criticize the closed primary system, he would leave himself open to being accused of not being a loyal Democrat.”
The argument against open primaries is that the parties should be allowed to conduct their elections as they see fit. That may be a valid argument but, if so, then shouldn’t the parties contribute the $25 million the elections cost the New York taxpayers?
While watching the protest I couldn’t help but think that the problems facing New York independents is a microcosm of the problems independent voters face across the country. Despite the fact that 43% of Americans self-identify as being Independent only a handful of states have open primaries and and over 20 states have ballot access laws that discriminate against independent candidates
"The party leadership doesn't want independents to vote because they are less predictable. They want to control who can participate in the primary," said John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries. “Putting gridlock and partisanship together and wrapping it up in a bow and calling it stability is a lie and the American people know it,”
Disenfranchising independent voters does not just hurt them, it hurts the country. According to Gallup, throughout 2015 Americans saw dysfunctional government (often resulting from partisanship) as one of the most important problems facing the U.S. So we have to ask ourselves: if we only let partisan votes into these early elections can we honestly expect anything other than partisanship to come out of our government?
We live in an era of partisan extremism and gridlock. We should be doing everything we can to encourage independent voices; not block them from the voting booth.