By Megan Bungeroth
New York City is home to many registered Democratic voters, but it also contains its fair share of independent or unaffiliated voters who don’t always vote down party lines. Many of those residents might be surprised to find out, however, that if they want to cast a vote in next year’s primary elections in the city, they have to register with a party this Oct. 12.
Ken Biberaj, who is running for City Council on the Upper West Side, has been doggedly reminding potential voters that they have to register now. He’s been canvassing subway stops, and his campaign sent out a mailer to over 700 “blank” voters (those who are registered but have no party affiliation) encouraging them to sign up with the Democrats.
“There’s a lot of folks who in my opinion, and I have talked to, who have voted in general elections, but because there wasn’t a competitive council race or assembly race, they’ve just voted in the general election,” Biberaj said. “Everyone’s waking up and realizing that in 2013 it’s a new mayor, a new council. So many folks I’d talked to were planning on participating and didn’t realize the deadline was coming up.”
For example, according to the city’s Board of Elections, there were 57,649 active Democratic voters in the downtown District 1, Council Member Margaret Chin’s District, as of last April. That’s roughly 65 percent of all active voters. The number of voters without a party affliation is 18,701 or about 21 percent of active voters in the district.
In a city with often times at least a few Democratic candidates running for the same seat and a small number of Republican voters, it’s entirely likely that whoever wins that primary will win the general election.
“If the disaffected independents were voting in the primaries of the Republicans and of the Democrats, I think you’d see very different choices of candidates,” said Michele Wucker, an Upper West Side resident who runs a global policy think tank and considers herself politically engaged.
“I have registered as a Democrat because I want to be able to vote for Ken [Biberaj] in the primaries,” Wucker said.
Wucker said that she had no idea the deadline was approaching until she noticed Biberaj’s posting on Facebook about it, and quickly registered as a Democrat.
David Loewenthal, another resident who is a friend of Biberaj’s, also switched from blank to Democrat after hearing about the upcoming cut-off date.
“I don’t want to be affiliated with any party, [but] I believe in Ken for this particular election,” Loewenthal said. As a libertarian-leaning independent voter, he said that he bristles at the assumption some people make that those who don’t check the box for a major party aren’t as engaged in politics.
“I’m actually very opinionated in my set of beliefs,” he said. “When you always have the red team versus blue team, you don’t have a lot of choices.”
The election laws are set up this way to prevent people in one party or another from easily switching sides for the primary to sabotage the opposing party, by purposefully voting for a weaker candidate.
“Political parties want to prevent party raiding, people from other parties joining up at the last minute,” said Jerry Goldfeder, an experienced election lawyer. “Generally speaking, it’s extremely rare that somebody would want to change parties. There aren’t that many people who fall into that category.”
But in a five-way primary, where a handful of votes could determine the outcome, Biberaj doesn’t want to take any chances that the system cuts potential voters out of the process.
“Lower turnout will always benefit the establishment candidates. If we can dramatically increase the Democratic party for this election, we can really have an honest turnout,” Biberaj said. “We’re not leaving any stone unturned.”
To register to vote in New York City, visit vote.nyc.ny.us.
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