Over the past few weeks leading up to New York's April 19th primaries, FairVote has been one of the many voting rights organizations to receive calls from frustrated or confused New Yorkers, wondering whether they are eligible to vote. We received callers from both major parties, and some who had never registered with a party before. While some were registered with a party early enough to qualify, most received the disappointing news from us that they had missed the deadline to change party affiliation.
New York has the earliest change-of-party deadline of any closed primary state in the country, occurring six months before its primary election. To participate in the upcoming primaries, New Yorkers registered with a different major party had to have re-registered with a party whose primary they hoped to vote in by October 9th of 2015. In her recent article in Think Progress, Emily Atkin describes how many first-time primary voters are devastated to learn that they will be excluded from an election they care about deeply. New voters and previously unregistered voters are subject to less restrictive rules: they are eligible to vote in the primaries if they register with the party for the first time by March 25th.
Not all closed-primary states have such stringent change-of-party deadlines. In Kansas, for example, voters may change party affiliation until only 21 days before the closed primary, and unaffiliated voters may declare a party at any time--even the day of voting. In Arizona, the deadline to change parties is 29 days before the primary. To find a complete map of primary rules in each state, see our map "Who Can Vote in Presidential Primaries?" featured below.
Differences in the registration timeline for closed-primary states can have a significant impact on which voices are heard in the election. Those most affected by these regulations in New York, for example, are likely to be third party voters, and anyone attempting to switch their party allegiance this year. Voters registered as independents will be forced to re-register with a major party to participate. For candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, these rules could depress their turnout, as both candidates attract larger percentages of non-traditional and independent voters that are usually outside of the two major parties.
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