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How Ivanka Trump Suddenly Became A Voting Rights Advocate

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, looks on as her father addresses supporters in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALEX SANZ
Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, looks on as her father addresses supporters in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALEX SANZ

After finding out that she won’t be eligible to vote for her father in the upcoming Republican presidential primary in New York, Ivanka Trump is speaking out against the restrictive voting laws that landed her in such an awkward predicament.

In New York, primaries are closed — meaning registered independent voters are barred from participating. In New York, more than 3 million people — about 27 percent of the state’s voters — were registered outside the Republican and Democratic parties as of April.

New York has one of the most onerous rules in terms of registration.

New York also has the earliest change-of-party deadline in the country, meaning independents who wanted to switch their registrations to Democrat or Republican must have done so by October 9, more than six months ago.

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The change-of-party deadline is what ultimately doomed Ivanka from being eligible to vote. Appearing on CNN on Thursday night, Ivanka said she has always been a registered independent, and wasn’t aware of the early deadline.

“New York has one of the most onerous rules in terms of registration, and it required us to register a long time ago — almost close to a year ago — and we didn’t do that,” she said. “We found out about it sort of after the fact.”

Ivanka’s brother, Eric Trump, also missed the registration deadline. He, too, said it was because he was unaware.

“We didn’t realize how the whole system worked,” he said on Thursday. “It was amazing.”

As it turns out, voting rights advocates have been speaking out against New York’s closed primary system for some time. Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, warned ThinkProgress last week that she believed many voters will be unwittingly disenfranchised on New York’s primary election day because they don’t know about the early change-of-party deadline.

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“We think that there are going to be some number of people who are going to show up at polling places on April 19 expecting to be able to vote because they’re registered, and they won’t be able to,” Lerner said. “People don’t understand that they have to register very far in advance.”

Indeed, New York’s process has proven confusing even for people who are generally politically savvy. Before learning she missed New York’s registration deadline, Ivanka herself was travelling the country teaching supporters how to register to vote in states across the country.

A fierce opponent of New York’s closed primary voting laws, Lerner said she believes the current process allows political parties, not voters, to be the “dominant force” of elections in the state.

[The political parties] don’t see it as advantageous to have extraneous voters suddenly joining their party to suddenly vote in a primary.

“[The political parties] don’t see it as advantageous to have extraneous voters suddenly joining their party to suddenly vote in a primary,” she added. “They have the power base, and what they seek to do is preserve their power base.”

Advocates of the closed primary system, however, argue that it’s necessary to keep independents out to avoid “party crashing” — when people from another party conspire to sabotage the contest and vote en masse for a bad candidate. Party crashing doesn’t happen much for large parties like Democrats and Republicans, but New York has a few smaller parties like the Green Party and the Working Families Party which could be affected by the phenomenon.

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Still, it’s unlikely Trump will be impacted severely by New York’s closed primary rules. He is leading polls in the state by more than 30 points — and that’s without the support of registered independents.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), however, may be hurt by the rules. An independent himself, Sanders has historically done well with party-unaffiliated voters. Indeed, most of Sanders’ statewide victories have so far been “fueled by his large vote margins among independents,” according to the New York Times. Sanders is currently trailing his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by about 14 points.