New Bill Would Open Presidential Primaries to Independents in New York

New legislation introduced in the New York Assembly would change the way the state conducts its presidential primary elections. The bill would allow “undeclared voters” (independents) to participate in the party primary of their choice, creating a system that resembles a semi-closed primary, except the parties cannot bar these voters from participating.

Assembly Bill A9661 was introduced by New York Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele on March 24, 2016. Instead of outright replacing the current closed primary system, which only allows voters registered with a qualified political party to participate, the bill would open the door for independent voters to participate in a single party’s primary, while keeping everyone else confined to the party on their registration card.

S 2-123 of the bill states:

OPEN PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES. NOTWITHSTANDING ANY PROVISION OF LAW TO THE CONTRARY, AFTER THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SECTION, AN UNDECLARED VOTER SHALL BE PERMITTED TO VOTE IN THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY OF ANY PARTY. SUCH UNDECLARED VOTER MAY ONLY VOTE IN THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY OF ONE PARTY. SUCH UNDECLARED VOTER SHALL SELECT THE PARTY IN WHICH THE VOTER WISHES TO CAST SUCH A BALLOT ON THE DAY OF THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY AT THE POLLING PLACE OF THE UNDECLARED VOTER AT THE TIME SUCH VOTER SEEKS TO CAST A BALLOT.

The amended law would only affect presidential primary elections.

What Thiele is proposing is not quite the same as the semi-closed system in states like California, where the parties can choose whether or not to allow independent voters to participate in their taxpayer-funded presidential primaries, but it is not like the open partisan system in states like Texas, where all registered voters can choose a single party’s ballot and must stick with that party’s ballot throughout the primary process.

The bill would also not affect current voter registration deadlines, which require registered voters to change their party affiliation 6 months before the presidential primary if they wish to vote for a candidate in another party. This also applies to people who would re-register as an independent voter in order to broaden their choices on primary election day. New voters or previously unregistered voters can register up to about a month before the primary.

Since the bill is currently sitting in committee, the earliest it would take effect is the 2020 presidential election.

Photo Source: AP