Donald Trump is right about one thing: The New York state voting system is a total mess. To vote in Tuesday's primary, New Yorkers who were not party members will have had to submit their change of party registration by Oct. 9, more than six months ago. Though there is a reasonable case for closed party primaries, having the deadline that far in advance is utterly unjustifiable.
So if you're a political newcomer, or an independent wanting to vote for Bernie Sanders (or Trump), chances are good you didn't get around to updating your party registration by then. Even for those who were aware, few expected the primary to still be going at this point — back in October, Clinton was more than 20 points ahead of Sanders, and looked to be cruising to easy victory. Indeed, this is the first time in over 40 years that both parties have seriously contested the New York primary.
If Bernie Sanders loses this state primary — which would make it all but impossible to win the Democratic nomination — he might start by blaming the Electoral College.
It isn't just the party registration deadline that makes it hard to exercise the franchise in New York. There's also no same-day registration, no vote by mail — no early voting of any kind in fact — and the voting machines are ancient. As Josh Marshall explains, this is no accident. As one of the bluest states in the nation, New York's electoral votes are a foregone conclusion. There's no reason for the national parties to try and run up the vote total in New York, because the national popular vote doesn't determine who wins the presidency. During presidential years, it literally does not matter for whom individual New Yorkers vote.
What's more, local elites are not generally in favor of high turnout either. New York is effectively a one-party state, and as such tends to be run by machine hacks (like the extremely slippery Gov. Andrew Cuomo), who would like to pick and choose their electorate. Mass participation from poor people with a list of expensive demands is not at all what they want. Local unions and other interest groups by nature have the same interest, so as to maximize their own electoral heft.
The very existence of blue states and red states is a relic of the Electoral College, an anachronistic contraption so nonsensical even the world's most cranked-out political scientist couldn't possibly invent it today. The fact that it exists in the first place is more-or-less an accident — and only status quo bias keeps it in place.
The dogged folks of National Popular Vote have been working on an interstate compact whereby each state agrees to submit their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote — but only once the compact has enough signatories to be able to guarantee victory. They're 61 percent of the way to an effective end run around the Electoral College.
Previously, I have argued that the Electoral College should be abolished because it is violently unfair to citizens of virtually every state. The voters of Pennsylvania or New York only count about a third as much as those of Wyoming — not to mention that you can win the presidency while losing the popular vote 4 to 1. And in practice, only those states with a close ideological balance get any attention at all. During the 2012 election, only 11 states hosted actual campaign events — New York did get visited, but exclusively for fundraising.
Abolishing the Electoral College would make every vote count equally. But it would also force a total overhaul of the voting system of a great many states. Suddenly it would be vitally important for New York Democrats to make voting as simple and straightforward as possible, so as to run up their count in a state where they are strong. Indeed, the same would hold for New York Republicans (and Texas Democrats, and so on), since even 30-40 percent of a big state would be a very large absolute number of votes.
It would even militate against efforts at voter suppression. Effectively stealing elections by preventing the opposition party from voting would have to be weighed against the risk of accidentally suppressing your own voters. Conceivably America could develop a consensus that universal suffrage is actually good.
Janky voting rules in one state is probably not the biggest barrier Bernie Sanders has faced in this election. But it is a good reminder that great swathes of this supposedly democratic country are still strangled by the dumbest national election system ever devised by man. Maybe we ought to join the 21st century — or failing that, the 19th.