The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How independents in New York are hoping to make their voices heard in today’s primary

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders takes a morning walk and greets voters on April 19 in New York City. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

New York's voter registration rules are fairly straightforward, with one big exception. The state doesn't allow same-day registration, but neither do many other states. The deadline to register to vote was in late March, a little under a month ago.

The primary vote has a higher bar. In order to vote in a party primary, you must be registered with that party before the prior general election -- in this case, last October. This early deadline was challenged in a case that made it to the Supreme Court in 1973, Rosario v. Rockefeller, but the court ruled on behalf of the state.

The October deadline is also the one that two of Donald Trump's kids apparently missed, meaning that they're unable to vote for their father on Tuesday. This was the best Eric could do:

That deadline is also frustrating to independents who want to vote for other candidates -- for example, Bernie Sanders. Sanders has benefited far more from the support of independent voters in Democratic primaries than has Trump in the GOP primary. In nearly every state for which we have exit poll data, at least 30 percent of Sanders's total support has come from independents.

Ezra Koenig, lead singer of the band Vampire Weekend (which has done some gigs at Sanders events), tweeted about his frustration with the state's "voter suppression" on Monday night. "Our choices are already limited by this two-party system, but an unaffiliated New York voter can't even watch a few debates and get to know the candidates before deciding to vote as a Democrat?" he wondered.

The answer is yes. Or, really: maybe.

On Monday, a group called Election Justice USA filed a lawsuit on behalf of a diverse group of New York voters against the state board of elections and its agents, asking that their clients be given the ability to vote as members of their preferred parties, that provisional ballots be counted alongside normal ballots and that the primaries be open to all voters, regardless of affiliation. There will apparently be a hearing on Tuesday afternoon -- well after voting is already underway -- to determine what should happen with the suit.

The three things isolated above aren't all of the requests made by the plaintiffs, but they each serve very different purposes that are worth fleshing out.

The first point addresses concerns from the plaintiffs that their attempts to register with a party on or before that late October date were ignored. Several are listed in the lawsuit by name. But it appears that the problem may be more widespread. A WNYC report found that the number of Democrats in Brooklyn -- one of the most populous counties in the state -- inexplicably dropped by about 126,000. By "inexplicably," that's meant literally; WNYC's reporters tried to figure out what happened, to no avail.

UPDATE: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement about the apparent voter purges on Tuesday evening. "I am calling on the Board of Election to reverse that purge," it reads in part, "and update the lists again using Central, not Brooklyn borough, Board of Election staff. We support the Comptroller’s audit and urge its completion well in advance of the June elections so corrective action can be taken. These errors today indicate that additional major reforms will be needed to the Board of Election and in the state law governing it."

This transitions to the next point, about provisional ballots. In some states, people who are denied the ability to vote but who think they should be allowed to are able to cast "provisional ballots" -- ballots that are considered for inclusion after the fact. The lawsuit, it seems, would demand that the state err on the side of assuming that provisional ballots be included. (Gothamist has a good look at this.)

Bloomberg's Jennifer Epstein points out that filing provisional ballots in the hopes they'll be counted is one strategy being employed by independents looking to cast a ballot for Sanders or Trump. It's almost certainly too late for a court to determine that independents can participate in the election without constraint, even if the court were so inclined. This, then, is as close as those voters may be able to get.

Not for lack of trying. The Times reports that a 72-year-old showed up to vote for Trump in Chappaqua, only to be told he couldn't vote, since he wasn't registered as a Republican. "Nevertheless," the Times's Joseph Berge writes, "he planned to go to the Westchester County seat, White Plains, to straighten out the problem, then return to Chappaqua because he was determined to cast a vote for Mr. Trump."

The lawsuit notes that the 2016 election is exceptional in many ways. Exceptional interest, exceptional turnout, exceptional candidates. It's exceptional, too, in that New York's primary hasn't meant much in recent cycles. The question for the court, in part, is the extent to which the apparent changes in registration or purging of voter rolls is itself exceptional. Arizona's disastrous primary was clearly an exception. New York's may not be -- at least for New York.

This suit continues another pattern we've seen in 2016: questions being raised about the validity of election results. This, too, has been bipartisan. But so far, those myriad concerns have not resulted in actual changes to the outcomes. We'll know soon if New York is any different.

UPDATE: The judge hearing the case declined to decide on the case on Tuesday, allowing the election to proceed as normal.