Disenfranchised Sanders Supporters Mobilize To Get The Vote Out In New York

Ssong Young, a Brooklyn resident, said she’s going to get three people to vote for Bernie Sanders since she herself can’t vote. CREDIT: EMILY ATKIN
Ssong Young, a Brooklyn resident, said she’s going to get three people to vote for Bernie Sanders since she herself can’t vote. CREDIT: EMILY ATKIN

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — They’re not hard to spot around New York City: Bernie Sanders supporters, carrying clipboards and handing out stickers and telling strangers to vote on Tuesday.

But here’s an interesting fact: Some of them aren’t actually eligible to vote in the New York primary.

It’s not because they’re not actually New Yorkers, or because they’re getting paid by any organization. It’s just that New York’s presidential primary rules are notoriously strict. New York is a closed primary state, meaning only registered Democrats can vote for Democratic presidential candidates, and only registered Republicans can vote for Republicans. In addition, New York has the earliest change-of-party deadline in the country. If registered independents wanted to change parties to vote in the primary, they had to do so before October 9, 2015 — more than six months ago.

Many voting rights advocates say these rules disproportionately disenfranchise supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), because of Sanders’ widespread support among political independents. And New York has a lot of independents — 3.2 million, or 27 percent of the state’s electorate.

The optimistic way I’m looking at this is, my goal is to try to change my one non-vote into three votes.

And so, many people who are getting out the vote for Sanders in New York can’t actually vote in the primary election on Tuesday. One of those people is Ssong Yang, a Brooklyn resident and registered independent who realized too late that she had to change her party affiliation to vote for Sanders.

“The optimistic way I’m looking at this is, my goal is to try to change my one non-vote into three votes,” she told ThinkProgress. “There’s a lot of undecided people, and I hate talking on the phone but I’m willing to get out of that comfort zone, phone bank, and talk to them about my situation and have a conversation about the fact that they have the power to make a decision.”

Yang is certainly not alone. Rich Guccione, a Long Island native, missed the October deadline to register as a Democrat because he didn’t realize the paperwork had to be physically mailed to his local Board of Elections — he couldn’t do the whole process online.

“At that point, I was very regretful,” Guccione said. “It was a lesson that I needed to be more pro-active in forthcoming elections, and I think I really did learn that lesson.”

Still, Guccione — an enthusiastic Sanders supporter — wasn’t content to wait until the next election to have a political influence. So two weeks ago, he went out knocking on doors to canvass for Sanders in Garden City, Long Island. And lately, at work, he said he’s been asking everyone who comes to his desk whether they’re registered to vote as Democrats.

“Everybody that walks into my office today, I’m saying, ‘Do you know the primaries are tomorrow? Are you a registered Democrat? You should vote!’ I tell them that if they’re working that day, they can get up to two hours off,” he said. Though he said he doesn’t pressure anyone about who to vote for, he tries to make a lighthearted case for Sanders.

“Most people that I’ve talked to are working class people,” he said. “People in my mind should support Bernie Sanders because he’s the kind of person who can help them back.”

As people like Yang and Guccione try to make the best of their disenfranchised status, others are trying a more pro-active approach. More than a hundred disenfranchised New Yorkers filed a lawsuit on Monday in an attempt to open up the state’s primary process before election day on Tuesday. Many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Sanders supporters.

Still, if the lawsuit doesn’t work out, at least one of its plaintiffs will be getting out the vote for Sanders anyway. Brooklyn resident Fitz Maro — one of the New Yorkers in the lawsuit — told ThinkProgress he’s been phone banking for Sanders for a couple hours a week since February. He’s probably convinced about five to ten people to cast a ballot, he said.

“In my mind, there’s three things every citizens get to do — you get to vote, serve on a jury, and be in the military,” Maro said. “Voting is participating in this awesome freedom that we have … I want to be a part of it.”