Posted by Kellie Ryan on February 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM
Meet the millennials working to enact open primaries in New York
Meet Anthony Del Signore, the campaign manager for our petition to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer to urge the New York State Democratic Party to open the 2016 Presidential Primary to independent voters in New York. Anthony was born and raised in South Glens Falls, New York and graduated summa cum laude from Pace University in 2014 with a degree in Political Science. He is currently looking to obtain a Ph.D. in American Politics from Temple University and hopes to begin a career in academia and independent activism. Anthony was an intern at the Independence Party of New York City and has been an ongoing activist for independent voters. Read a Q&A with Anthony below:
Why did you get involved with the petition to open the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary to independent voters?
In politics, particularly independent politics, it’s easy to feel powerless. You are constantly up against a system that does not want you to participate unless you play by their rules. With this petition I see something that instils power back into the hands of those who have been powerless for so long. I’ve been privileged to intern with IndependentVoting.org and the Independence Clubs of New York City while in college.
I was enthralled by the dedication and motivation that every independent activist I met had. I spent a lot of time on the phone connecting with independent voters, letting them know there are groups around the country working to give independents a political voice. I can’t tell you how many fed up people I talked to. Now it’s time to take the network that we have built and activate it towards a common cause.
This petition is not a vague request. This petition takes a facet of the partisan structure, the presidential primaries, and highlights how exclusionary it is. Asking Schumer to convene the top leaders of the New York State Democratic Party to open their 2016 Presidential Primaries to independent voters is something he can do right now. Not ten years from now, not some time in the vague future... right now! Now that I have graduated from college I can dedicate my time to this petition and thankfully through the partnership of Open Primaries and the Independence Clubs of New York City, I am doing just that.
What is your favorite part about working on this campaign?
Strategizing. I absolutely love how this campaign is a chess match against the clock. It’s a thrill for me to find new places where we haven’t petitioned or new neighborhoods where we haven’t called, and sending out our motivated team to let those people know our democracy needs fixing and we’re doing something about it. I believe there are millions of people in New York who want to see more inclusion in the political process. I feel it is our job to give these millions of people a voice, so we can tell Senator Schumer that we’re not happy with the status quo. Senator Schumer, You talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.
Under the guidance of long-time political activists Cathy Stewart, John Opdycke, and Dr. Jessie Fields, I know I have the tools to succeed. More importantly, they have given me a chance to fail and work through it on my own, and I am immensely grateful for that. It’s an invaluable learning experience and one that I can take with me as I join the ranks of independent activists looking to make primary reform the norm instead of the exception.
Why are you an independent voter?
I feel associations and affiliations of any kind should be voluntary. I’ve never believed in the “vote for the lesser of two evils” mantra that many voters, particularly young voters, subscribe to. My personal views span the political spectrum depending upon the issue. I don’t hide from it. In fact, I advertise it. So, joining a party never interested me. Oftentimes when people tell me they are a Republican or a Democrat, any political discussion we have might as well end right there because I can guess their political views with accuracy. I’m not like that. And I believe there are millions of other Americans whose views don’t fit neatly into a box as well.
What difference would it make to open the primaries in New York?
Establishing a top-two open primary in New York is not an easy feat. New York is the most lockdowned, gerrymandered, and partisan state in the country. To change that would require nothing short of a constitutional convention. That being said, it’s important to shift the political conversation towards more inclusion. This is why the prospect of the Democratic Party opening up its 2016 presidential primary is important. It immediately enfranchises 2.9 million voters who otherwise have absolutely no say in who will be president. Such an enfranchisement is so empowering.
Equally important is that opening up the primaries will force politicians to work *shudder* for votes from people who may not be typical party voters. Parties will no longer be suffering from a severe ailment I call “vote entitlement.” I also call this the “Ralph Nadar effect.” We all remember how furious the Democratic Party was in 2000 when Ralph Nadar allegedly “stole” votes from Al Gore in Florida. Excuse me... since when did parties own votes...?
To conclude, I think it’s important to note it would take a few election cycles for real change to be felt. Political exclusion is also a mindset. If someone feels excluded, they will continue to be whether or not the primaries are open.
What did you think of U.S. Senator Schumer’s op-ed in the New York Times on open primaries?
I was very surprised to read the op-ed. Normally when op-eds like this are written, they are from third party candidates, independent activists, and disenfranchised voters. To the mainstream those op-eds are dismissed at best meaningless, at worst ramblings of the disgruntled fringe. In the case of Senator Schumer, we have an established Democrat taking a stand for more inclusion in the election process. I think the most important message independent activists -- heck independent voters in general -- can take from this is that there are chinks in the armor of the party machine.
But Senator Schumer makes one critical error — one that if it is perpetuated can really distort the premise behind Top Two open primaries. Top Two primaries are not, nor will they ever be, about moderation. Independent voters are not centrists. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be independent. Libertarians would never consider themselves centrists; Green Party members would not consider themselves centrists either. Yet they are independent of the two major parties, thus disenfranchised from exercising any meaningful vote.
If Senator Schumer truly believes what he wrote then he will listen to the thousands upon thousands of voters in New York asking for the New York State Democratic Party to open its presidential primary in 2016.
If you could change one thing about politics, what would it be?
Common answers most people give (campaign finance reform, term limits, redistricting reform) are essentially cosmetic issues. Put another way, our democracy currently has the flu and campaign finance reform, term limits, and redistricting reform are just cough drops. The true issue is how much the party structure dictates the functioning of all facets of government. That becomes an issue because each party is more concerned with winning at all costs than effectively governing. That being said, I really don’t have a problem with the existence of political parties. I believe they are natural and people tend to think in diametric oppositions so a group on the left and a group on the right is bound to form. However, those groups should not be the decision makers on who is running in any given election, who gets committee chairmanships, what districts will be solidly behind them, etc. We need to show political parties that they don’t own us. They work for us.
There are two great books that intimately describe how the party structure ruins effective governing: Parties Versus the People by Mickey Edwards and Tales from the Sausage Factory by Daniel Feldman. Edwards provides eye-opening anecdotes of how party structure dictates practically every aspect of government. One that really stuck out to me is how political affiliation dictates which door a congressperson enters and exits the House Chamber, as if they are labelled “Republicans Only” and “Democrats Only.” In Feldman’s book, he talks about his time in the New York State Assembly. He spends a large portion of the book talking about the immense power the speaker of the assembly has. Feldman’s anecdotes show how painfully difficult it is to pass any measure, let alone a bipartisan measure, because all decisions are filtered through the speaker who is representing his or her party. I highly recommend these two books to anyone who wants to see an insider perspective on why government is so dysfunctional.
Why do you think the millennial generation is more independent?
There are a few reasons why this generation is less inclined to affiliate with a major party. One key reason is that there is dissonance between party leaders, party platforms, and Millennials. Many party leaders have little desire to speak
to young Americans because young Americans tend not to vote, ultimately to our detriment. This apathy permeates almost every political discussion I have with those of my generation. As a result, we continually see party platforms centered
on issues that most Millennials find no issue with but previous generations tend to care deeply about. These typically include same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and reproductive rights. These issues are rarely, if ever discussed in a classroom.
I find more Millennials talking about the debt and deficit, police reform, and the normalization of race relations. For the parties to catch up with contemporary issues, Millennials have to reject the two major parties en masse while casting their votes — which they are constitutionally guaranteed — for candidates who can work across the aisle. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. This means that young people have to take it upon themselves to campaign for candidates who are not partisan and have new ideas all of their own. I think Millennials are not participating in voting because they don’t see a difference between the two major parties. In my opinion that is a valid criticism of the current Republican and Democratic Parties. However, we can’t take this fact and conclude young people are disengaged. According to a recent Pew study, 48% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 participate in civic and political activity. This is higher than any generation.
Another reason Millennials are independent is that we study history very intimately and are not easily fooled by rhetoric and revisionism. We view the idolization of former Republicans and Democrats with a skeptical eye. This fact is not out of ignorance as some would claim. Rather, I find this generation does not come up with excuses for partisan hackery and broken promises. We tend to hold our leaders’ feet to the fire when need be.
A final reason is the internet. Social media has given us an opportunity to view an infinite number of perspectives from around the world with relative ease. Now our education and our discussions are not confined to the classroom, they spread out to Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. There is a double edge sword to that, however. Any Mary or Tom can write a viral blog that is totally inaccurate. But I believe many young people understand that and weed out the nonsense from the factual.