Posted by Adriana Espinoza on April 20, 2016 at 5:15 PM
An Intern's take on the NYC Open Primaries Rally
In the wake of the 2016 Presidential Primary Election, the future of this country rests in the hands of American voters to choose our nation’s leader. As a democracy, every citizen has the constitutional right to vote in elections. This, however, is not the case in New York. New York holds closed primary presidential elections, meaning that you must be registered as either a Democrat or Republican in order to vote in the primaries at all.
As an intern for Open Primaries, I was able to join Open Primaries, IndependentVoting.org, and the New York City Independence Clubs along with other concerned Americans to protest the injustice of New York’s election laws. The Rally was held at New York City Hall on Thursday, April 12th. Over 150 people turned out to demand open primaries and raise awareness of the injustices taking place within New York’s election system.
In preparation for the event, I researched statistics and data to find out who was able to vote in the New York State Presidential Primary, in addition to analysis of New York’s election laws. As a young voter, the evidence I found was startling:
In New York, 3.2 million voters, which is 1 in every 4 voters, are denied their right in vote in primary elections. In fact, there are more registered Independents and Third Party voters than Republicans in the entire state, with 2.7 million registered Republicans.
Young voters, hard-working families, minorities, and countless others are oppressed by New York’s strict election laws. These laws bar Independents, Third Party Voters, and those who don’t want to be confined to one political party from their constitutional right to vote.
In addition, New York has a maze of strict registration deadlines. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New York is the only closed primary state where the deadline for party enrollment does not fall in the same year as the primary. Voters were required to change party enrollment by October 9th of 2015, at least half a year before the primary election! This was before all the presidential candidates were enrolled in the race! These unrealistic, cumbersome hurdles disenfranchise a quarter of the voting population, ultimately disempowering a growing number of potential voters. New York election laws complicate voting and continue to take away voting rights from 3.2 million New Yorkers.
This level of voter suppression has a profound impact on voters, which I have seen in some people my age. I have heard a number of college students say, “What’s the point in voting? We don’t really have a say.” This opinion threatens the entire basis of democracy, and closed primary election systems like New York’s continue to discourage the political participation of Americans.
In defiance of the political monopoly which continues to support these unjust primary election laws, our rally last Thursday demanded the Democratic and Republican Parties open up New York’s Presidential Primary, which prohibits 3.2 million people from casting a vote on Tuesday.
During the rally, I helped Open Primaries staff organize our energetic volunteers. I was overcome by the level of both excitement and frustration of voters. We held a sign-making party in our office before the event, where I was able to talk to a group of volunteers who shared our passion for primary election reform. I learned a little about their personal stories being unable to vote, and their desire for reform. One of the volunteers stepped up and single-handedly led all of the chants at the rally. The fact that a handful of volunteers, who were new to the movement, offered to help out and get so involved in this rally really demonstrates the sense of urgency felt by voters. It was very powerful to see the event connect strangers together with the goal of meaningful election reform. It was a great indicator of the level of motivation and passion these voters feel as they continue to be barred from New York Presidential Primaries.
As a registered Democrat, I do not face the same voter suppression as Independents and 3rd Party voters in New York. However, being able to stand in solidarity with those disenfranchised under this system was thrilling and made me feel like my hours behind an office desk researching finally came together during this moment. This, in my opinion, is about what democracy is about. Getting people engaged in their communities and spreading awareness of injustices in order to hold our government accountable.
The rally began with Open Primaries’ Vice President Jeremy Gruber telling the story of Open Primaries and New York’s history of voter suppression. After Jeremy spoke, other speakers told their stories of political activism. Speakers included, Open Primaries President John Opdycke, Alvaader Frazier of the NYC Independence Clubs, Assemblyman Fred Thiele of the NYS Assembly, AliAkbar M. Hassonjee, a New York University Student Activist, Juliana Francisco, a NYC Independence Club Activist, and Jacqueline Salit, President of IndependentVoting.org.
Here are a couple of meaningful points that really resonated with me:
Assemblyman Thiele spoke about his accomplishments and hopes for New York local government, and yet despite all of his influence in Albany and Sag Harbour, his district, he would still be unable to vote in New York’s presidential primary as a registered Independent. It seemed ironic that New York election laws stopped politically involved voters like Thiele from participating in New York primary elections. Government thrives on the participation of it citizens, so it doesn't make sense to me why there are so many systemic laws which complicate and reduce voter access.
AliAkbar M. Hassonjee, an NYU student and registered Independent stated, “It’s time for generations to stop taking shot at each other, it’s time for politicians to realize that they risk alienating an entire population of voters if they refuse to give us an equal seat.” Political partisanship has continued to create gridlock in Congress, and through monopolies in closed presidential primary systems such as New York’s, threatens the credibility and accessibility of elections.
The Protest New York’s Closed Primary rally was inspirational because it was the first time I was able to see such an organized and impassioned concern for election reform. Researching New York’s election laws and studying the entrenched monopoly of the Democratic and Republican Parties over the primary election process was daunting. Seeing all of the impassioned faces at the rally, from complete strangers and everyday people- provided a sense of hope. If people like this continue to challenge government institutions, it is possible to go against unjust policies and hold government accountable for election reform. It was clear from the data, and the personal stories being told, that something MUST be done to hold New York government accountable for the corrupt and bureaucratic election laws.
Through the efforts of concerned Americans, we can force the government to be more accountable and take voting rights of the American people seriously. There is no quick fix to opening up the political system. In order to create meaningful election reform, we as voters must stand up and take action into our own hands. Our rally last Thursday was one such action.
Abby Walczak is an intern at Open Primaries as well as at Berger Hirschberg Strategies, a political fundraising organization. She is pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Stonehill College in Massachusetts. Abby is a lover of dancing, food, and dancing with food.