What Are New York's Voting Laws? Residents Are Concerned About Several Rules They Claim Could Lower Turnout

The New York primaries on Tuesday are highly important for the Republican and Democratic candidates, and many residents are eager to make their voices heard at the polls. But voting laws in the state may impact many people's eligibility to vote in the primaries. What are New York's voting laws, and what do they mean for would-be voters in the state?

A few things to know right off the bat are that New York does not do same-day registration, and that there was no early voting allowed, except for people who could prove that they have a disability or would be out of town and therefore unable to show up to the polls on Tuesday. But much of the public outcry around New York's voting laws leading up to the primary concerns party affiliation.

New York holds closed primaries, meaning that in order to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary, an individual must be registered with that party. This is the case in many states. But New York's deadline for switching party affiliations is very early — would-be primary voters who are unaffiliated or affiliated with a third party had to change their affiliation way back in October. About 30 percent of New York's voters remain unaffiliated, and therefore can't vote in the primary on Tuesday. First-time voters had until the end of March to register in the state.


Complaints about New York's closed primary system have escalated leading up to Tuesday because several New Yorkers who thought they were affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Parties recently discovered that they are not. ThinkProgress reported that Election Justice USA, a group that was formed shortly after a similar problem occurred in Arizona, filed a lawsuit in New York federal court in an effort to make the primaries open to all registered voters. According to Young Turks reporter Jordan Chariton, the New York Board of Elections said it is not responsible for what the counties do, and a judge reportedly told the plaintiffs to refile the lawsuit against each specific county, rather than the Board overall.

Several voters who claim they found out last-minute that they were not affiliated with either of the two major parties are named in the suit. New York state did not open its primaries, and Election Justice USA is urging unaffiliated voters to cast provisional ballots, just in case a decision in their favor is arrived at following voting day.

Thomas Connolly, New York's Board of Elections spokesperson, told ThinkProgress that he's been receiving frequent complaints about affiliation switches from New Yorkers. But he says that in each case he's followed up on, he has found that the voter had made a mistake. "I’ve yet to come across [a voter registration] that’s been maliciously changed. There’s always been a legitimate reason,” Connolly said. ThinkProgress noted the case of one voter whose affiliation was switched in the confusion surrounding Hurricane Sandy, which struck the city just before election day in 2012. Voters were allowed to vote in any precinct due to travel restrictions posed by the storm, and somehow, this person's affiliation was changed when she cast her ballot in a different precinct.

From strict voting laws to confusion and alleged mistakes surrounding people's affiliations, voter turnout in New York might be lower than it could be. The outcry leading up to the 2016 primary might lead to increased pressure to hold open primaries in the future.