Update: On Sunday, Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order extending the deadline for voters to switch their party to Tuesday, Feb. 16 — the first business day following the date in the law.
The governor said in a statement that the extension will “help break down more barriers to the ballot box and help ensure everyone has a chance to exercise this fundamental right.”
His office said the change will give short-staffed election boards, thinned by the pandemic, enough time to process the paperwork.
New York election law is clear: Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — of each year is the final day for voters to change their party registration before a primary election.
But there’s no love lost between the city and state boards of election, which are each telling a different story this year.
The city board is opening its doors at 32 Broadway this Sunday, Feb. 14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to accept last-minute party-switching registrations — information it then passes on to the state.
The state board, though, advertises the deadline on its website this way: “An application to change one’s party enrollment for any primary election in 2021 must be received by the board of elections no later than February 12, 2021.”
Meanwhile, one election lawyer says the de facto deadline for city voters registering online is Feb. 10.
This year’s deadline confusion looms especially large as a transformative local election approaches in which Democratic primary winners will have a strong advantage in the general election.
Efforts are underway to press 1.6 million Republican, third party and unaffiliated voters to sign up as Democrats to help pick a more centrist nominee.
Online re-registration for city voters is available only via the state Department of Motor Vehicles website, which passes the information on to the state board. The DMV’s website also advertises Feb. 12 as the last day to change party registration.
“[B]ecause the 14th falls on a Sunday, any change of a party enrollment via this DMV site must be done by Friday, February 12, in order to be effective for this year’s primary elections,” reads a notice.
A spokesperson for the state Board of Elections, Cheryl Couser, said that applications received in person in New York City through Sunday will be accepted, since “the statute says the change of enrollment must be received by February 14.”
The city board, she said, is among those “making arrangements to receive changes of enrollment during the weekend.”
Squeezing the deadline even tighter, a representative for the state Board of Elections has indicated that it won’t accept DMV applications submitted any later than Wednesday, Feb. 10, election law attorney Lawrence A. Mandelker told THE CITY.
He says the board has it all wrong. “The DMV has become an agent of the Board of Elections because the only way you can submit online is on the DMV website,” said Mandelker in a phone interview Wednesday. “So whenever you go on that website, that should be considered the date on which you file and the date on which it’s received.”
What’s more, he contends that the state is misinterpreting election law. He points to other statutes that dictate the deadline should be extended to the next business day that isn’t a holiday — which would be Tuesday, Feb. 16, the day after Presidents Day.
Couser said at least one court has held that the extra-day law does not apply to changes of enrollment.
The DMV didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, the city BOE continues to promote the Feb. 14 deadline.
“The NYC BOE is not stating the deadline is the 12th. The state board is,” Valerie Vasquez, a spokesperson for the BOE, wrote in a text message.
The city Board of Elections links out to the DMV site to allow voters to register online.
Gov. Cuomo signed the law in September 2019 pushing back the party-switch deadline, three years after Bernie Sanders supporters in New York raged after being locked out of the state’s closed Democratic presidential primary in 2016.
Between 2016 and 2020, the number of New Yorkers without a party affiliation increased 18% to more than 959,000, according to a January analysis by THE CITY.