In January 2020, a number of Twitter users claimed that New York residents had until February 14 2020 to either change their party affiliation or register to vote, information at odds with a widely repeated claim that the deadline to do so had passed in October 2019:
Widely repeated claims about an October 2019 party affiliation deadline likely had roots in the events of the contentious 2016 Democratic primary, and the manner in which primary voting became a point of debate that year.
An April 12 2016 article published by The Guardian (“Early primary deadlines frustrate New Yorkers left unable to vote”) explained that at the time, New York state not only was “one of only 11 states with closed primaries — ie primaries in which only voters who are registered as Republicans or Democrats are allowed to cast ballots,” but also the only state in which “currently registered voters must declare their party affiliation more than six months before a primary in order to vote.”
A lot has changed in the presidential primaries since 9 October 2015. Back then, a CBS News poll showed Hillary Clinton beating Bernie Sanders nationally by nearly 20 points; if Joe Biden had entered the race, the same poll suggested Clinton would beat Sanders by 24 points. She was, in the minds of many liberal voters, the inevitable Democratic nominee.
Another CBS News poll showed Donald Trump with a slim six-point lead over Dr Ben Carson nationally and, after two almost cartoonish debate performances, most Republicans and pundits expected the businessman’s numbers to slide and eventually eliminate him from contention.
Quietly on that same day [in October 2015], the New York state board of elections’ deadline to change party affiliation passed, leaving any registered voters not identified as a Republican or a Democrat with no way to vote in the 19 April 2016 primary.
The deadline to register to vote for the first time in the New York primary passed on 25 March 2016; there is no in-person registration in the state, even to cast a provisional ballot.
Tensions over the state’s arcane primary voting requirements were high even before voting began, and they only worsened after it came to light that more than 100,000 New York voters had been improperly “purged” from voter rolls:
According to the Daily News, [chief Board of Elections clerk Diane] Haslett-Rudiano was in charge of maintaining accurate voter registration lists, a job that includes updating party registration information and removing the names of people who’ve died or moved. That process had fallen six months to a year behind schedule, according to WNYC, which reported the day before the primary that 60,000 Democrats had been removed from the polls in Brooklyn. That number later doubled after the Board of Elections followed up on the WNYC story.
New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer has opened an investigation into the matter, and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office had received more than 1,000 complaints about the election and would also look into “alleged improprieties” by the New York City Board of Elections. Scheiderman’s statement noted that he would expand his investigation to other areas of the state if warranted. On Friday, an official in Schneiderman’s press office told Mother Jones that there had been reports of issues in other parts of the state, but that for now the investigation was limited to the New York City area.
On September 26 2019, weeks before the planned October 11 2019 deadline for change of party affiliation or registration, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill extending the deadline by four months:
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation Thursday giving voters more time to change their party enrollment ahead of next year’s primary elections.
The new law scraps the previous Oct. 11 deadline, giving voters until Feb. 14 to switch parties and still vote in the state’s primary elections in April and June. The bill, passed by the state Legislature in June, sat unsigned for months — leading Bernie Sanders’ campaign team to urge Cuomo to approve the legislation last week.
“While the federal administration continues to look for new ways to disenfranchise voters across the country, in New York we are making monumental changes to break down more barriers to the ballot box and encourage more people to exercise this fundamental right,” Cuomo said in a release.
Although archival reports from 2016 involved instances where voters on occasion received inaccurate information from sources like Board of Elections employees, the New York State Board of Elections website was updated to verify the change in voter registration law ahead of both the February 14 2020 deadline and the April 28 2020 primary:
April 28, 2020 Presidential Primary Deadlines
MAIL REGISTRATION (N.Y. Election Law Section 5-210(3))
Application must be postmarked no later than April 3, 2020 and received by a board of elections no later than April 8, 2020 to be eligible to vote in the Primary.
IN PERSON REGISTRATION (N.Y. Election Law Sections 5-210, 5-211, 5-212)
You may register at your local board of elections or any state agency participating in the National Voter Registration Act, on any business day throughout the year but, to be eligible to vote in the State and Local Primary, your application must be received no later than April 3, 2020
CHANGE OF ADDRESS (N.Y. Election Law Section 5-208(3))
Notices of change of address from registered voters received by April 8, 2020 by a county board of elections must be processed and entered in the records in time for the Primary.
CHANGE OF ENROLLMENT (N.Y. Election Law Section 5-304(3))
An application to change one’s party enrollment for any primary election in 2020 must be received by the board of elections no later than February 14, 2020.
Although a number of Twitter users reiterated outdated information about the New York State Board of Elections enrollment or party affiliation change deadline as the previous October 2019 date, legislation signed by Cuomo extended the deadline to February 14 2020. New York voters had until February 14 2020 to either register or change their party affiliation in New York State, and most voters could do so online via the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)’s “Motor Voter” page.