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Monday, December 6, 2010

New York Election Reform Threatens Republicans, Third Parties

Some suggested election law reform would allow outside infiltration of low-enrollment third parties and Republican primaries in much of New York City.

A group of self-styled reformers, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, back a package of changes to the New York State Election Law. Notably, none of the changes enhance the notoriously tough ballot access laws. (Gee, wonder why?).

Among the changes would be an easing of the laws governing voters' change of party enrollment. Under current law, there is a practice known as deferred enrollment. In New York, one must change parties by early October of one year in order to be eligible to vote in the next year's primary (or sign or carry a petition) for the party being joined. Miss the deadline, and your change isn't effective for almost two years!

Before you question the constitutionality, be aware that the Supreme Court upheld an earlier version of New York's deferred enrollment system in its 1970 ruling in Rosario v. Rockefeller.

I have been a critic of the length of this deferred enrollment since my third year at Yale Law School when my proposed law review article on this practice was considered for publication. I would support this reform -- except that it misses an important ingredient to safeguard political minorities like Republicans and all third party members.

Allowing people to switch parties very close to a primary invites attempts at organized party raiding. A large group can suddenly enter and swamp a party, and outvote its "legitimate" members to nominate a candidate who is not a genuine party member and who may not be sympathetic to any of the party's principles. Given the tiny enrollment of Republicans and all other minor parties in much of New York City, such raiding would not only become much more possible. It actually could give candidates an ability to do an end-run around the Wilson-Pakula process which is now the only way for nonparty members to get another party's endorsement.

I proposed then -- and propose now -- that the waiting period be shortened, but also come with a limit on successive party switches prohibiting changes in consecutive years. This would make voters "stuck" in their new party for one year after the current year and prevent political hopscotch. It would prevent mischief and organized infiltration.

Reform is nice, but details matter.
Eric Dixon is a New York election lawyer.
Eric Dixon
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