Non-partisan Primaries

Democracy demands elections that are fair and provide access for all voters, regardless of party affiliation. Simply put, for democracy to truly work, we must let all people vote. Unfortunately, in New York, that’s not the case.

Primary elections, which decide the candidate for a vast majority of elected positions in this state, are firmly in the hands of the party bosses of the state’s established parties—  Republican and Democrat, along with the Conservative and Working Families parties. These party bosses unnecessarily restrict and prevent New Yorkers from enjoying a government that is representative of their voice by banning unaffiliated voters from some of the state’s most consequential elections

Fix the System

How we got here

New York is one of only ten U.S. states with a completely closed primary system, meaning only voters enrolled in the four established parties can vote in their party’s primary elections. States as different as Texas and California have rules in place that allow nonaffiliated voters some form of access to the primary process.

Partisan primaries have persisted because the groundswell of disapproval has been drowned out by major party —orchestrated policies that restrict more candidates from running. This construct also keeps current party members from fighting for a more open primary process out of fear of losing party support and resources necessary to continue to make a difference in office.

Why it’s a problem

The fact of the matter is the majority of general elections aren’t competitive anymore. Thanks to gerrymandering and the partisan creation of “safe seats,” too often the winner of the primary is guaranteed to win the general election. In New York there are currently more than 3 million voters who are not enrolled in any political party, and therefore barred from the elections that choose their representative. In 2022, despite primaries for Governor in both the Democratic and Republican side, a mere 10 % of the eligible voters in the State decided the two candidates on the ballot.

To put this in perspective, 3.4 million voters; more than are enrolled in the Republican, Conservative, and Working Families parties COMBINED, are currently denied an opportunity to vote for someone who’ll work for them simply because NY’s major party bosses want to restrict access and control outcomes. Importantly, taxes from all voters, including the unaffiliated, pay for these partisan primaries.

Party primaries also stifle government productivity because many elected representatives are reluctant to work across the aisle, as they fear getting “primaried” by someone to their ideological extreme in the next election. We need to allow independent voters to participate in these elections and provide incentives for elected leaders to represent all of their constituencies.

Our Votes Matter

What has to happen

A representative democracy starts with every individual having a vote to decide the fate of that representation — and to make that happen, Unite NY supports opening New York’s primaries to allow unaffiliated voters the opportunity to have their voices heard. The entrenched parties or elected state lawmakers should make necessary changes to give unaffiliated voters access to the primary process and embrace a system that gives every voter a voice.

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“Our political system isn’t broken.
It’s fixed.”

Katherine Gehl
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