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Easy voting, clear election rules not so much to ask

Easy voting, clear election rules not so much to ask

For a few unprecedented weeks in April, New York was the center of the primary process.

For a few unprecedented weeks in April, New York was the center of the primary process. The results were not earth-shattering, but one thing certainly did prove to be broken: our hilariously arcane and undemocratic primary process.

Prior to Election Day, controversy revolved around our state’s closed primary system, in which only those preregistered with a party could vote.

Primary Day was April 19, but you had to register by March 25 — unless you were a member of another party, in which case you had to switch by Oct. 19, 2015.

This half-year deadline makes us a distant outlier. Among states with closed primaries, voters can switch parties weeks or even days out. Should New York voters remain the only Americans who have to make this choice so early?

Of course, millions of independent voters should not technically be surprised that they were barred from casting ballots. Private organizations are theoretically under no legal obligation to open up their nominating processes. And protecting New York’s small-but-influential third parties from primary shenanigans is worth doing.

But like it or not, the two major parties determine the viable general election choices and must be treated differently. Cutting independents out of this fundamental stage of the democratic process is wrong — especially if it’s to keep things easy and predictable for those in power.

Some may say it’s incumbent upon voters to understand the preset rules of the primary. This is misguided.

If officials set draconian and unintuitive rules, it’s their responsibility to adequately inform the public. Anything else is their failure.

As for Election Day? It didn’t begin well.

In many places upstate, voters were surprised to learn polling stations only opened at noon — a stark difference from the 6 a.m. opening time in the fall.

A brief anecdote from the day: A friend of mine was unable to vote because his name did not appear in the registration lists, despite him having been a Democrat in the same precinct his entire life. He wasn’t alone.

Many registered voters across the state — including 120,000 Brooklynites — discovered they were suddenly and inexplicably unlisted and therefore ineligible to vote.

For perspective on the numbers, 280,000 Democratic voters cast ballots in Brooklyn alone. No matter your preferred candidate, this indisputably taints the legitimacy of the results.

The day continued. A member of my family encountered trouble at the polling place when a machine suffered a software error. She was faced with the choice of putting her ballot in a mysterious slot on the machine’s side, or in a giant plastic bag held by a poll worker — who was presumably going to manually count them all later. (She opted for the slot.)

This poll worker was doing his best. But it doesn’t inspire confidence.

Reports abounded statewide of uninformed polling staff, broken machines, a lack of translators at polling sites, locations not opening on time (or at all) and myriad other problems.

We should have seen issues coming, but we chose to ignore them. One of many warning signs: New York City officials had to mail out three different flyers to new voters before they had the relevant primary dates written correctly.

By early afternoon, the state Attorney General’s complaint hotline had received four times more calls than in the 2012 election. By day’s end, the nonpartisan Election Protection hotline received even more.

After polls closed, it was time to assign delegates. The breakdown for Democrats roughly matched the proportion of the overall vote. Great! That makes intuitive sense.

Republicans did things differently. Donald Trump won a commanding 60 percent of votes. But because of wacky rules, he got 90 of 95 delegates. How? Fourteen delegates were awarded proportionally, unless a candidate won a statewide majority, in which case he won the whole lot.

The remaining 81 were assigned in sets of three to 27 congressional districts. For each mere plurality in a district, the winner took two of the delegates. For every outright majority, the winner took three.

The GOP probably wanted to encourage statewide campaigning (a noble goal). But instead, it effectively disenfranchised the 40 percent of Republican voters who didn’t vote for Trump.

This is just a brief survey of problems which can be easily fixed, if elected officials and party bosses want to make the necessary repairs to our democracy.

If, on the other hand, they choose to do nothing, we can only assume that they believe more voting would jeopardize their re-elections.

The bottom line: Election Day should have no surprises.

If we haven’t voted early (an ability New Yorkers still lack), we should be able to walk into our polling site — or better yet, any polling site — register if need be, and cast a single ballot without hindrance and with knowledgeable staff utilizing working machines.

Is that so much to ask?

Steve Keller of Averill Park is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

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