Posted by Kellie Ryan on March 04, 2015 at 12:00 PM
Supporter Spotlight: Obama campaign volunteer locked out of 2008 primary in New York
In 2007 Melanie Whaley finally found a presidential candidate she was excited about who inspired her to get more involved in politics. She became the office manager of the Poughkeepsie, NY’s Obama for America campaign office and was responsible for organizing volunteers to go to Pennsylvania for get out the vote efforts.
"I wanted to become more active. Up to this point, all I had done was vote. I was genuinely excited about Obama in a way that I hadn't been about any other candidate, and I was willing to volunteer my time to help elect him."
At the time, Melanie was registered as an unaffiliated voter in New York—she was not officially aligned with the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, in the state of New York, unaffiliated voters are not allowed to vote in primary elections.
Currently, there are 2.9 million unaffiliated voters in the state of New York who are locked out of primaries. Melanie was forced to change her political affiliation so she could support her candidate and vote for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. But, she was still locked out!
In New York, you cannot change your party affiliation and vote in the primary of your new party in that same year. A change of enrollment goes into affect one week following the general election. Melanie volunteered an average of 20 hours a week to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States, yet she was not allowed to vote for her candidate in the primary election.
"I thought that I would be able to change my political affiliation in time to be able to vote in the primary. I was surprised that I had to wait a full election cycle before changing my affiliation would allow me to vote in the primary. It was very frustrating for me. It was making it more difficult for your average person to be able to vote than is necessary."
Melanie’s point is an important one. Why are we making it more difficult for politically engaged citizens to take part in the election process?
"It should be legitimate to be unaffiliated with either party and still be able to have a voice. I don't think that that should hurt me or make me a second-class. Being able to say I am unaffiliated with either party, that I am an activist, and I am engaged, I should have the right to participate. Everyone who wants to be engaged should be allowed to participate in our system."
Many unaffiliated voters were turned away from the voting booths on 2008 primary election day. Cathy Stewart with the Independence Party of New York City recalls the day clearly.
"On Presidential primary day in 2008, the NYC Independence Party's phone never stopped ringing. I literally fielded scores of calls from independents who went to the polls to vote and were shocked to be turned away. I spoke with people who were furious, outraged, even teary eyed. It was an eye opener for people to discover that the parties were allowed to hold closed primaries the taxpayers funded."
This is why Open Primaries and the Independence Party of New York City are petitioning U.S. Senator Charles Schumer to urge the New York Democratic Party to open the 2016 Presidential Primary to unaffiliated voters. Let’s give all voters a voice in choosing the next President of the United States. Sign the petition!