Voters this year have been unable to change party affiliation between Feb. 14 and July 1.
When state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister ordered a second primary take place on Aug. 23 for state Senate and congressional seats as part of redistricting litigation, he did not extend that window. It created, in essence, a loophole that would allow voters to switch parties up to and the day of the election.
“People from other parties could influence the victor of a primary election of a party they’re not affiliated with,” Erie County Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr said.
Mohr said his board noticed the oversight about 3 1/2 weeks ago and reported it to the state Board of Elections. He said the situation created concerns not just about so-called primary party raiding, but a number of technical issues.
“It would have exhibited the amount of confusion you’re going to experience during same-day registration,” Mohr said. “New York state just is not at the point with the technology to provide for same-day registration.”
For instance, early voting is done with electronic voter rolls on tablets, but the database is separate from actual registration database, meaning inspectors couldn’t automatically update it at a polling place. Mohr said the only option would have been to have voters fill out affidavits, a process that would have cost boards extra money and given them more to review post-election.
“It would have certainly delayed the results on Election Day,” Mohr said.
Furthermore, the commissioner said while Erie County does not use electronic poll books on Election Day, others do, and they use different vendors. Plus, there would be nothing to keep someone from voting in one party primary one day, changing their affiliation and voting in another the next.
“We haven’t had that ability before. It certainly would be improper,” Mohr said. “It would be probably immoral. I don’t know whether it would have been illegal or not, but it would certainly have been possible.”
On Wednesday, commissioners voted to request the judge issue a new order closing the loophole. On Thursday, McAllister did order that any change of enrollments received on or after Aug. 12 will not be effective until Aug. 30, a week after the primary.
Mohr said it doesn’t entirely eliminate the possibility of party raiding.
“There still are shenanigans that can occur within the next week. I would have preferred that the judge both for technical reasons to give the boards of elections time to prepare and to stop any type of party raiding. I wish he would have picked an earlier day that August 12,” he said.
Because the cutoff is just a day before early voting starts, Mohr said his staff will have to wait until the last second to update the poll books and bring them to 38 separate sites. He said that won’t be as big a concern for other counties with fewer early voting sites.