Independents in New York: WTF?

by Bryan

Subtitle: “A Non-Partisan Political Rant”

I grew up in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, voters registered as Independents can vote in the Presidential primary of their choosing, and this always seemed to be an eminently reasonable way of doing things. The goal of the political process is to include as many people as possible, and this allowed voters who didn’t identify with either party to vote for anyone they felt like in the primaries. Unsurprisingly, I knew many Independents, and may have been registered as one myself at one point, I’m not sure.

(I do know that I launched my one and only ill-fated contrarian campaign for Mitt Romney against Ted Kennedy in 1994, but that was more of trying to show that I was an independent thinker in what I considered brainwashed Massachusetts. Young and foolish. Let’s move on.)

In New York, this is not the case. Independents cannot vote in the Presidential primaries. I was talking about this with a friend last night, who said that the logic behind it was likely an attempt by the parties to prevent any “gaming of the system” by, say, preventing independent Democrats from showing up and voting for a bad Republican candidate. The Web site Daily Kos recently advocated this strategy against John McCain in Michigan, encouraging Democrats to vote for Mitt Romney, and I’m rather disgusted by the whole affair. (You can’t make a name off complaining about the dirt in politics and then start throwing it yourself, the same way you can’t complain about the arguments made by a certain group of football fans, then start making them yourself). I think these fears are overblown: it doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, the faux electorate is opening up a Pandora’s Box by messing with the will of the people. Everyone stands to lose and almost no one stands to gain.

Still, that’s the law here in New York. Yet I know many people who are registered as Independents, likely because they don’t want to be classified as “belonging” to any political party which they don’t believe in wholeheartedly. For most of the elections here, that’s basically saying that they want to be kept independent of the process, instead of the Massachusetts ethos, where you independently choose where and when to enter it. My boss, who is more or less a pacifist who’s registered as an Independent, came in asking, “Did Hillary win New York?” I told him, “Of course,” and he answered, “That’s bullsh*t.” While I am an Obama supporter, my response was, “You don’t participate, so you have no right to complain.” And he doesn’t.

Let’s look at what party registration really is: it’s filling out a little box on a piece of paper. Even if you want to be registered as in Independent on principle for the long haul, it would take less than one minute to change your registration to vote in the Presidential primary. This campaign’s been going on for more than one year, so there was ample warning for this change. City residents can print the form here, and non-city residents can do it here. Then you send it in the mail and a little birdy sends you a confirmation a few weeks later that everything is changed. Ta-Da! You can switch from Democrat to Republican to Independent and back to your heart’s content (since originally posting, I have found out that a lot of this is not true). You can alternate parties by month, or based on the Knicks’ record. You can do whatever you want. You’re beholden to nobody. You’re independent to choose whomever you’d like to vote for (which always includes the option “None of the Above.”) An independent voter who actually gets to vote — what a concept!