Every four years, the Democratic Party makes a new plan for organizing Democratic Presidential Primaries across the country. Each State Party writes a plan that lays out how its delegates will be chosen in their state, including who gets to vote in their state’s Primary. Public comments on the state plans are collected, then state party committees vote on whether to adopt their plan.
The LET ALL DEMOCRATS VOTE AMENDMENT is a proposed CHANGE to New York’s plan.
What’s in the Amendment?
The Let All Democrats Vote Amendment changes the section of New York’s plan that specifies WHO gets to vote in NY’s Democratic Presidential Primary. It guarantees that all New York State voters who APPLY to enroll in the Democratic Party at least 25 days before the Presidential Primary are eligible to vote in that Primary, even if their enrollment status as Democrat has not yet been officially recorded by the NY State Board of Elections.
Why is the Amendment needed?
New York’s incredibly restrictive change of enrollment deadline is by far the worst in the nation and amounts to voter suppression. By the time most voters begin paying attention to the Presidential Primary, the deadline of more than six months prior has long since passed.
Adopting this Amendment will encourage NY’s State Legislature and Governor to fix NYS Election Law to solve this voter suppression problem for ALL primaries, and in the meantime trigger a stop-gap measure to ensure the issue is at least addressed for voters in the 2020 Presidential Primary.
This Amendment is necessary to bring NY’s delegate selection plan into compliance with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) 2020 Delegate Selection Rules. Without the LET ALL DEMOCRATS VOTE AMENDMENT, NY’s plan is in violation of the DNC rules, and as a result NY Democrats could have less of a voice at the Democratic National Convention.
Review the full text of the Amendment here
Most people think the only way to let new Democrats vote is to change state law, but under both state statute and US Supreme Court rulings, it’s clear that a political party can make its own rules about who gets to vote in its Primary.
New York State Election Law
“Notice that political party enrollment is optional but that, in order to vote in a primary election of a political party, a voter must enroll in that political party, unless state party rules allow otherwise.” — NYS Election Law § 5–210-5(f)(emphasis added)
This law acknowledges that the ultimate authority on WHO is eligible to vote in a Primary in New York rests with political parties. The NYSDC has the power to select from registered voters those voters it wishes to affiliate with and allow into the Primary process.
United States Supreme Court Precedent
The NYSDC’s power to allow any voters it chooses into the Primary process is subject only to the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. This power under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution was affirmed by the US Supreme Court in Tashjian v. Republican Party, 479 U.S. 208 (1986) and further upheld in the Southern District of NY in State Committee of Independence Party of NY v. Berman, 294 F. Supp. 2d 518 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). Relevant sections from Tashjian:
“The freedom of association protected by those Amendments includes partisan political organization. Section 9-431 [Connecticut law mandating closed Primaries] places limits upon the group of registered voters whom the Party may invite to participate in the “basic function” of selecting the Party’s candidates. The State thus limits the Party’s associational opportunities at the crucial juncture at which the appeal to common principles may be translated into concerted action, and hence to political power in the community. The fact that the State has the power to regulate the time, place, and manner of elections does not justify, without more, the abridgment of fundamental rights, such as the right to vote or, as here, the freedom of political association.” (emphasis added)
“‘A State, or a court, may not constitutionally substitute its own judgment for that of the Party.’ Democratic Party of United States v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette, 450 U.S. at 450 U. S. 123-124 [Footnote Omitted]. The Party’s determination of the boundaries of its own association, and of the structure which best allows it to pursue its political goals, is protected by the Constitution.”
NY’s Board of Elections (BOE) has a record of the date that change of enrollment requests are filed. Although there is a “sealed enrollment box” requirement in NYS Election Law § 5-304(3) that some may argue conflicts with this Amendment, that requirement would be in direct conflict with the US Constitution which is the supreme law of the country. In 2003, the BOE tried to argue that they couldn’t practically comply with a similar rule enacted by the Independence Party because of issues with certain voting machines. The court ruled as follows:
“So the State Board’s argument reduces, in effect, to: ‘we don’t want to go to the
trouble of ordering the adjustment of voting machines in New York City and Albany to accommodate the Independence Party’s constitutional rights.’ Although Emerson feared that ‘things are in the saddle and ride mankind’ Ralph W. Emerson, Ode, in The Portable Emerson 322, 323 (Mark Van Doren ed., 1946), it is doubtful he ever contemplated the State Board’s view that constitutional rights should be modified to fit the peculiarities of particular voting machines, rather than vice versa. See Tashjian, 479 U.S. at 218, 107 S. Ct. 544 (administrative and financial considerations do not justify interfering with a political party’s freedom to associate with unaffiliated voters through its primary elections). This would be ‘machine politics’ of an utterly new, and absurd, kind. Fortunately, neither freedom of association nor the right to vote is so flimsy as to yield to the technical deficiencies of a particular locality’s voting equipment. The State Board’s first objection must therefore be denied.” (emphasis added)
Compliance with National Party Rules
Rule 2, Section J (requirement of 25-day enrollment change deadline)
“When employing government-run voting systems, it is important for State Parties to resist attempts at voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and ensure an open and inclusive process. These efforts include revising State Party rules and encouraging administrative rules, legislation, or considering litigation to: 1. Allow same-day party switching for the Democratic presidential nominating process or to achieve state laws that allow voters to switch parties at least as late as the deadline for registering to vote.” (emphasis added)
Rule 2, Section C (requirement to take “all feasible steps”)
“State parties shall take all feasible steps to encourage non-affiliated and new voters to register or enroll, to provide simple procedures through which they may do so and to eliminate excessively long waiting periods for voters wishing to register or to change their party enrollment status.” (emphasis added)
Rule 22, Section A (requirement to take “provable positive steps”)
“Subject to Rule 21.C. of these Rules, wherever any part of any section contained in these rules conflicts with existing state laws, the State Party shall take provable positive steps to achieve legislative changes to bring the state law into compliance with the provisions of these rules.” (emphasis added)
Consequences of Non-Compliance with National Party Rules
Rule 21, Section C(6) (potential loss of delegates)
“Nothing in these rules shall prevent the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee from imposing sanctions the Committee deems appropriate with respect to a state which the Committee determines has failed or refused to comply with these rules... Possible sanctions include, but are not limited to: reduction of the state’s delegation...” (emphasis added)
National Comparison of Party Change Deadlines
Download A PDF of this chart here.)