I am by no means a math person. But here are some numbers for you to consider:
There are 18 million people who live in New York State. There are 11.8 million registered voters. Of those, 5.8 million are registered Democrats. Of those, 531,000 voted in last week’s Democratic Primary for Governor. Just about 10% of the registered voters came out to vote for our next Governor. For comparison 606,000 voted in the Democratic Primary for New York City’s Mayor’s race last year.
330,000 voted for Governor Cuomo. That’s just over the number of people who live in Toledo, Ohio. Unlike in 2010, when there was a vaguely serious challenge to Cuomo, this year Cuomo should win pretty easily, which isn’t a surprise since most Democratic primaries in New York City ultimately decide the victor. 330,000 just decided the next Governor for the state of New York. That’s roughly 1.5% of the total population.
That’s ridiculous. That’s absurd. That’s wrong. That’s also the way it is, and the way it’s going to be. It’s hard enough to get people to care about politics, let alone vote, let alone vote twice, let alone vote the first week they’re getting back from vacation, let alone sign a petition for someone to get on the ballot immediately after school ends and you go on that vacation. Giving people free stickers might not be enough. I personally think there should be fresh baked cookies available for those who vote, but that’s just me. This also, again, isn’t new. But I want to resurrect an idea from 2010 that I think came and went without anyone really paying enough attention.
Citizen’s Union, a non partisan good government group here in New York City proposed a “Top Two” system for primaries, which I think went unnoticed when they first proposed it in 2010. The report – seen here – talks about a system where the Primary would be open to everyone to vote in, regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote getters would then move on to the General election. How much fun would that be? Get all the parties together on one ballot for the Primary and actually let everyone vote for who should be in the general election. Then you couldn’t use the “I’m registered Independent/Green/unaffiliated” excuse (cough Rachel cough). Then everyone could vote, which to me at least, is the true point of a primary – to open the field, to allow new candidates to enter the sphere, to broaden the scope of representatives – and then let the victors battle it out.
On a broader, more intellectual scale, I am not opposed to a party system. I think having parties are good. I think that a division between thoughts and beliefs is a good thing, as long as it allows us to debate the issues and improve our quality of life. But the current system we have here in New York isn’t fair, it isn’t objective. The truth is that locally, New York City doesn’t have Republican representatives save for a few, so the Democratic primary winner essentially coasts into their seat. Now, if you win, then you win. If people voted for you, you should be their representative. But we shouldn’t be looking at limiting the pool of participants in the electoral process, and that’s what the current Primary system does.
Four years ago we had a very intriguing Governor’s race for the General election. If you forgot about Jimmy McMillan and Charles Barron, and the former Madame who was running, we had 7 different party affiliates debating, if you wanna call it that, while Andrew Cuomo coasted into an easy win. 7 candidates debating is fine, it’s good, it’s entertaining, but it’s also a mockery of the party system. Imagine a system where those 7 all debated for the Primary, and THEN the top two debated for the General, and ultimately, for the seat. Involvement in the system should happen SOONER rather than LATER in the process.
Citizen’s Union’s idea is a great one, but I think got lost within this enormous report they wrote, which outlines 50 new ideas to broaden participation in New York City elections. The report is fantastic and I’m not going to recap all 50 ideas, but I think that this one in particular will continue to get buried because of how influential parties are on legislation. Opening up the primary would be a big hit to the Democratic Party, since it would mean any random party affiliate, and potentially turn us into a system more complicated than Italy, thus spreading out the funding for everyone a little thinner. But if we’re going to be serious about getting people more involved, about getting all 11.8 million registered voters involved and not just the 5.8 million registered Democrats, we need to think about doing something different.
There seems to be a lot of different kinds of shaming we like to do now. We get on our high horses and shame anyone who doesn’t eat locally produced hand crafted whatever, Bill Burr likes to fat shame people. I’ve been on my high horse about going to vote and participate in the process for a while now, but I think I’d like to start vote-shaming people for not voting. I’m all for positively reinforcing people for voting by giving them a sticker, but if you catch me throwing a tomato at you for not voting, deal with it. Register. Go vote. Get a sticker. Maybe if you show me that sticker I’ll give you a freshly baked cookie.