It’s my (new) party, and I’ll wave bye if I want to

You would switch too if it happened to you.  – With apologies to Sixties songstress Lesley Gore.

Primary-related party switching may be moving into high gear in New York State.  It is giving true party switching a bad name.

Think Ronald Reagan switching to the Republicans.  Think Joel Giambra switching to the Republicans (he recently changed his registration to a non-affiliated independent), or Kevin Hardwick becoming a Democrat.  Those party switchers said it was a matter of principle and it was not intended to last a week or even just five months.

More recently in Western New York (and likely in other parts of the state) party switching has taken on a different tone.  The featured party switching story locally follows the election of former Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo to the State Supreme Court in November, opening up his seat in the Legislature’s 10th district.  Joe’s father, Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo, wants to replace Joe with Joe’s wife Lindsey. 

The County Charter requires that a vacancy in a legislative seat must be filled by the remaining members of the party caucus that the former incumbent sat with.  The Charter also requires that the replacement legislator must be registered with the same political party that the former legislator was a member of.  Joe Lorigo is a registered Conservative but he was also the leader of Republican caucus at the Legislature.

Ralph Lorigo is promoting his daughter-in-law for the position, saying that she was a “true” Conservative, whatever that means.  Previously Lindsey Lorigo was a registered Republican, which at this time she is once again.

The County law does not recognize any designation of a party member as a “true” member.  Neither does it give a political party any official role in filling a legislative vacancy, although it is not unusual for a party to convene its committee members to recommend someone for an appointment.

The Republican Party, whose caucus Joe Lorigo led as Legislature Minority Leader, had their own ideas about how the seat should be filled.  They recommended to the remaining legislators that they appoint Jim Malczewski, an Elma Town Councilman, and Republican legislators proceeded to do so.

The state Election Law has recently been changed to make party switching a convenient option running in parallel with a June primary schedule.  The state Board of Elections 2023 Calendar notes that February 14 was the deadline for a change in a voter’s enrollment. “Any changes of enrollment made between Feb. 15-July 5th shall be effective July 5th.”

In the case of Erie County’s 10th Legislative District, Malczewski, who was a Republican re-affiliated as a Conservative prior to February 14th, making him: (a) eligible for appointment to the vacant legislative seat; and (b) eligible to run in a Conservative Party primary for the seat in June.  The Republicans will issue Wilson-Pakula permission for this current Conservative to run as the endorsed candidate of the Republican Party in that district.

Lindsey Lorigo, who was a Conservative re-affiliated as a Republican prior to February 14th, making her eligible to run in a Republican Party primary for the legislative seat in June.  The Conservatives will issue Wilson-Pakula permission for this current Republican to run as the endorsed candidate of the Conservative Party in that district.

The Republican Chairman in the Town of Tonawanda recently resigned that post to run for a seat on the Town Council.  He then re-affiliated as a Conservative to allow him to run in a Conservative primary for the office.  That reportedly was followed by some 40 Tonawanda voters also re-affiliating as Conservatives, allowing them to vote for the new Conservative in a Conservative primary for Town Council.

In the City of Lackawanna there is a report circulating that about one hundred voters re-affiliated as Conservatives to help someone planning to run in the Conservative primary for office in the city.  Undoubtedly there are other examples of such party-switching for expedient reasons like voting in a party primary. 

The issues in Erie County relate to  the current fight between local Conservative and Republican parties leadership.  Some of these new Conservatives may revert to their original party roots after July 5th.  There have been no stories that I am aware of concerning local Democrats or Working Families Party members switching parties as an assist in a primary.

Gamesmanship is nothing new in politics, but examples like those noted here make are making a mockery of party registrations.  Perhaps a lawsuit will be brought; there was one on the same subject in recent years in Monroe County.  The solution might be for the State Legislature to change the change-in-affiliation law back to what it previously was, requiring switches to be done in a previous year.  Last minute switching for purposes of getting lined up to run in a primary was not a serious issue under the old law. 

All of this is a great example of what is often described as the byzantine style of politics in New York State.

Twitter @kenkruly