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Silly rule hamstrings primary voters in NY

WASHINGTON – Who would remember where they were on June 1, 1976, even if they were of a cognizant age? Maybe planning to attend some event connected with the nation’s bicentennial.

On that day, then Gov. Hugh L. Carey, a Democrat, pounded a large rusty iron spike deeply into democracy. Like the sparrow or a tree falling in the woods, no one heard the hammer. Carey probably signed the revisions of the state’s election law high in his 38th floor suite on 3rd Street in Manhattan.

Like most governors, Carey never spent more time in Albany than he had to.

The legal clause in question, found by Gothamist.com, is section 5-304 of the Election Law. It raises the already steep bar faced by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is trying to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the state’s Democratic presidential primary on April 19.

For purposes of this coming primary, what Carey and the Legislature quietly did was disenfranchise up to 3 million registered New Yorkers from taking part in the Democratic or Republican voting. This includes about 711,000 voters affiliated with the Conservative, Green, Working Family and Independence parties. The rest are registered independents, unaffiliated with anyone.

According to section 5-304, if any of those New Yorkers decided to vote this time because of the high media excitement that is evolving in the two major party contests, they are out of luck, unless they formally changed their affiliations by last Oct. 9.

That’s more than six months before this primary is held.

They had to know a half a year in advance that we would be facing two bone-rattling primaries today. This column mentions the Republican joust between Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz only out of politeness. Who gives Cruz, who in Iowa condemned “New York values,” a chance?

Some traditionalists may say that open primaries dilute the sense of a political party. Six months advance notice, I think, is a bit much. Other states, believing that elections belong to the people, not gangs or committees, believe otherwise.

ThinkProgress.com counts 16 states whose primaries are completely open. In Virginia, a voter can change party as he/she votes.

Section 5-304 is part of the machinery of New York’s politics. Dare we say, “fix?”

New Yorkers are used to it. It’s the way they do things. The voters – who comprise an ever smaller share of society – saw nothing wrong or unusual last Oct. 25 when 100 Democratic pols lined up for Clinton in the primary.

The group of congressional Democrats included Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo, the governor, both U.S. senators, state legislators, the attorney general, the comptroller and on and on. This apparatus was formed about two weeks after it was too late for any one of the millions mentioned above to try to register to vote in the next spring’s Democratic primary.

It’s the New York way. Keeps things tidy. Political neatness dampens complaints, so hardly anybody hears when a scattering of meddlesome reformers mention that the state’s poor, and now the middle class, need real jobs, that too many upstate cities are shrinking while wallowing in violence and drug addiction, and that outside of New York City, central city schools are failing children.

Taking it as a statewide phenomenon, there’s nothing like it in America. Gothamist.com says ours is the only state with a closed primary where the affiliation deadline is in a year prior to the election. California’s closed June 7 presidential primary allows party changes up to May 23.

Political neatness creates an environment of helplessness. In 2014, only 28.8 percent voted in New York’s general election.

email: dturner@buffnews.com