This will likely be news to even the most well-informed New Yorkers, but today is the last day to change your party affiliation if you want to vote in the next election. No, not that other election next month. The city elections next year.
That’s right. If you’re a registered voter without a party – or one that wants to switch teams – you will not be eligible to vote in the primaries for a new mayor, comptroller, public advocate and City Council unless you contact the Board of Elections today.
So what, you say—the general election is what really matters. Well, consider this: Since 1946, the Democratic nominee for comptroller has won 100 percent of the time. All three public advocates were first the Democratic primary winner. Same goes for the vast majority of the City’s 51 Council districts.
Of course, our last two mayors were both Republicans when first elected (Bloomberg changed mid-way through his time in office to an independent). But Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one in the Big Apple. So, odds are, in 2013 the registered Dems who voted in their primary will pick the next hizzoner.
If you’re an outer-borough voter, you should be even more motivated to register with a party. More Manhattan residents than Queens residents voted in the City’s 2009 primary, despite a population of 750,000 fewer people. And Manhattan nearly equaled Brooklyn in turnout, even though Kings County has about one million more people. The Bronx is also severely under-represented per capita when compared to Manhattan. That’s unfortunate, considering the Bronx officially added more residents than any other borough from 2000 to 2010.
There is also a significant disparity between the percentages of voters who are white, black and Latino and their shares of the city population as a whole. An analysis of city Congressional districts this year by the Center for Urban Research showed that, in every single district, the white proportion of the population registered to vote was larger than the white proportion of the district’s residents overall. Conversely, Latino voters were underrepresented at the polls in every district.
Of the nearly four million registered voters in New York City, about 17 percent now have no party affiliation and will be ineligible to vote in next year’s primaries. Since only half that number, or about eight-and-a-half percent, actually voted in primaries at all in the last city election, a surge in party identification could be decisive. Any increase at all – especially amongst outer-borough and minority voters – would make for a more representative electorate and, much more likely, the local government officials we actually want.
Our turnout in city primary elections is embarrassingly low, and such an early deadline to register with a party surely contributes. If you’re not registered to vote at all, you have until about a month before the primaries to sign up. But that window is closing faster than you may have thought as well: the state Assembly is currently considering moving our primaries up to June from September.
Who will win those primaries? Your guess is as good as mine. But I can tell you this: unless New York City and state create more rational voter registration rules, an unnecessarily small and unfortunately skewed electorate will be choosing our new local government.
Evan Thies is the president of Brooklyn Strategies, a public affairs and strategic planning firm that offers political advice. You can follow him on Twitter at @EvanRThies.