Voting ins and outs

Oct. 13, less than two weeks from today — that’s the deadline to change the party affiliation on your voter registration in time to vote in next year’s primary elections.

We repeat: Next year’s primary election — not this year’s. Crazy, right? Not only do we have to endure the modern-day mantra of politics ’round the clock, ’round the calendar, seeping into every aspect of society; we also have this super-premature deadline to worry about, thanks to stodgy old New York. Actually, “stodgy” is almost too fond a word. “Arcane” or “cryptic” would be more accurate.

Nevertheless, you can’t vote if you aren’t registered, so the purpose of this editorial is to inform and prepare you.

In New York, only registered members of a party can vote in that party’s primary. Therefore, if you’re registered as a non-party voter but want a say in determining which candidate represents any party next year, you’d better get your paperwork in quickly.

Primaries are almost certain next year to decide who represents the North Country in the U.S. House of Representatives. Incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik already has a Republican opponent, Russell Finley, and the Democratic side is super-crowded — now up to seven announced candidates: Donald Boyajian, Tedra Cobb, Ronald Kim, Steve Krieg, Emily Martz, Patrick Nelson and Katie Wilson. Christopher Schmidt is also running as a Libertarian. More candidates may well emerge before the primaries, which haven’t been scheduled yet — talk tends to lean toward June.

Our state makes registering to vote harder than necessary — Exhibit A being the extreme advance deadline to change party enrollment before a primary. It must be 25 days before the last general election, which works out to Oct. 13 this year.

That’s firm, and there’s no separate postmark deadline. If your county board of elections staff doesn’t receive your change-of-enrollment paperwork, either by mail or in person, before they go home on that Friday — and by the way, the Fulton County Board of Elections office closes at 5 p.m., Montgomery County at 4 p.m. — then for all of next year you’re stuck with whatever party (or none) you had before.

It’s very different if you need to change your address or file a new voter registration. For that, you can do it now in time for this coming general election, Nov. 7. Nevertheless, the deadlines are strangely staggered:

∫ New registration forms must be postmarked by Oct. 13 and received by the 18th, or completed in person at the county Board of Elections office by Oct. 13.

∫ Change-of-address forms must be postmarked by Oct. 13 and received by the 18th, or completed in person at the county Board of Elections office by Oct. 18.

Again, those are for this year’s election. To change party enrollment, you have to make the change now for next year. Why? Who knows? Our best guess is that election officials can’t to bothered to deal with it more than once a year.

None of these deadlines are obvious. How would you know about them if your newspaper didn’t tell you? Good question. County board of elections staff will tell you if you call or stop by, but don’t expect them to reach out. They don’t advertise or promote these deadlines in any way. It’s hard to find them on the counties’ websites. You have to go out of way to ask — and who would think to do so eight months before a primary except a longtime local or someone with an inside track on information? Yet there are many other citizens out there who would like to vote, and this deadline deters them from participating in the democratic process.

This became a major controversy in April 2016, when New York held hot presidential primaries in both major parties. Massive numbers of voters were shut out because they hadn’t thought to switch their party registration six months prior. No one had told them.

This unnecessary, unreasonable and unjust system needs to change, but in the meantime, we need to let you know the deadlines. Otherwise, who would?


That’s our take on the WHEN of registering to vote. Tomorrow’s editorial will tell you HOW to register, and Wednesday’s will explain WHY it’s important to do so.