I Can't Vote Today — & I Am Far From Alone

Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo.
Until this past Monday afternoon, I thought I would be voting in the New York state primary elections.

I sent a message to one of my editors confirming that I would come in later than usual in order to stop by my local polling station on the way into the office. It was only then I realized I'm not eligible to participate in today's primary.

I should note here that my inability to participate in the primary is no one's fault but my own. It's each citizen's responsibility to know the rules for voter registration in their state. And as someone who writes a lot about politics for a living, I feel like a giant hypocrite for not casting my ballot.

Honestly, I feel embarrassed — and frankly, ashamed — about how in the dark I was about New York's policies. Less than a month before writing this story, I had told my parents how I planned to vote; my strategy was to vote in one party's primary to stop a candidate I really disagree with.

Before this year, I'd only voted in one election, in 2012. I wasn't yet 18 in 2008, and I was thrilled at the chance to help elect a president. By the time the 2012 election season rolled around, I'd been in college for several years and had formed strong political opinions.

Honestly, I feel embarrassed — and frankly, ashamed — about how in the dark I was about New York's policies.

I was (and still am) registered as an independent because I didn't feel my values aligned squarely with either dominant political party. Because North Carolina, where I went to college, has semi-open primaries, I didn't think twice about it. Voters who aren't affiliated with any party can choose a primary to cast a ballot. So when I signed up to vote in New York state last fall, I thought that was all I had to do, just like I did in my home state.

Just last week, I wrote about Donald Trump's children not being able to vote for him in the GOP primary. I definitely believe that Eric and Ivanka felt "guilty" for not knowing the Republican primary was closed and that voters who wanted to change their party affiliation had to do so by October — I didn't know either! But I didn't look up what the rules were for voting in the Democratic contest.

That is, until yesterday, when I saw the news that more than 200 New Yorkers were suing the state over its closed primary system. Until I saw those headlines, I'd assumed I could just show up on Tuesday and exercise my political muscle by voting in the Democratic primary, since the GOP contest was off limits anyway. I wish I hadn't been so ignorant of the state's regulations — as, apparently, do many other voters.

The lawsuit claims that the closed primary system is undemocratic. Many voters believe those who are unaffiliated with a political party should still be able to vote in the primary of their choosing. Shyla Nelson, a spokesperson for Election Justice U.S.A., which filed the lawsuit, told the New York Daily News that closed primaries are "a threat to the democratic process." And even for those who do register as members of a political party in time, the closed primary system can still limit your options about how to utilize your vote.

Next time, I'll be sure to register as a member of a political party, so that I'll be able to vote in one of the primaries. To find out what the voting laws are in your state, check out Rock The Vote's state-by-state guide.

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