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The Injustice of New York's Closed Primary

By M. Francis Mirro

Presidential primary season is upon us, and an immensely important primary at that. Before November, when Americans head for the polls, they will be tasked with choosing the candidate who will oppose current President Donald Trump.

But not every American voter will have an equal say in their state’s primaries. A huge percentage of voters in the United States do not align with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. In fact, according to the most recent Gallup poll, voters who identify as “Independent” represent a whopping 42 percent of the electorate, more than either of the two major parties. And yet, when it comes to primaries, independent voters are iced out of this election process entirely in 28 states including New York.

New York does not allow Independents to vote in a presidential primary. The only way they can exercise the franchise on Apr. 28 is if they forsake their own affiliation and register as a Democrat (there is, of course, no Republican primary this cycle). This proved a real point of contention in 2016 when the unpopular Hillary Clinton faced the then-upstart Bernie Sanders who carried a large number of Independents in his camp. Yet, Independents were left out in the cold and Clinton, some would argue wrongly, won New York State.

Independents are often erroneously believed to be centrist or moderates. But this is a fallacy; Independents range the spectrum but choose, for one reason or another, not to align with either party. I myself identify as a Progressive, typically associated purely with the Democrats, but have registered consistently as an Independent. I do so for the same reason many others do: while one party may better represent my values, both are inherently flawed, corrupted and demonstrably inept at passing direly needed legislation.

But disillusionment with the two-party system should not preclude voters from participation. In fact, I’d argue that disillusionment makes the voters better suited to make educated decisions. Holding no allegiance to party dogma or to a candidate brandishing a largely meaningless letter next to their names, Independent votes will gravitate towards political ends more in line with specific goals and ideals rather than superficial party loyalty.

The general election, however, is open to Independent voters, meaning that while they often don’t have a say in choosing either candidate, they are very much a part of the contest that weighs those candidates against one another on the national stage. But how can a state like New York with closed primaries properly measure how a candidate will do in a general election when the nation’s largest voter block is not able to express their preference? This is how we end up with stale, uninspiring and largely unlikeable candidates; when we value the maintenance of the establishment, the stability of the two-party system, over the actual preferences of voters.

While New York, since 2016, has made great strides in how and when people can register to vote, it still actively suppresses the franchise for a massive number of voters in an essential election. This not only reduces and discourages political activity and decreases the mandate of a selected presidential candidate, but it also provides an inaccurate representation of where the electorate aligns which skews campaign and election outlooks even further in the future.

New York, and 27 other states, needs to wake up and join the new millennium. The two-party system has proved utterly insufficient as humans are not binary creatures. The primary system needs to be opened up and Independents need to be encouraged to vote for their interests, rather than being corralled into one party line or another.