New York's long-awaited primary had two big winners tonight in the GOP's Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton but literally millions of losers -- as huge swaths of the electorate were disenfranchised by the state's arcane voting rules and then by an inexplicable massive purge of voting rolls in New York City.
A night that was supposed to bring clarity to one of the most divisive presidential elections in decades instead became an embarrassing, muddled nightmare for American democracy, as horror stories mounted from polling places across the nation's largest city.
"I spent three hours this morning trying to vote," a Queens Democrat whose registration had been botched told the Daily Beast website. "I'm at a loss for words. I don't understand that in the 21st century you have to stand in front of a judge to get to vote."
"It's a terrible situation," former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, who knows a thing or two about polling-place problems, said tonight on CNN, after hearing that an estimated 126,000 Brooklyn Democrats, including entire residential blocks, had inexplicably been purged from New York City's voting rolls. Nutter and other pundits last night said they hoped the latest outrages would inspire a serious push for voting reform in America.
No matter who was able to vote or not vote, the frontrunners in both parties -- both beaten up in recent weeks and facing contentious party conventions in the summer -- plodded forward in a kind of a night of the living dead primary.
Two bloodied "zombie" frontrunners -- Republican Trump, whose nativist uprising may yet be thwarted by party elites in Cleveland, and Democrat Clinton, still looking for love from her party's left-wing and its youth -- stomped to victory after casting ballots in their home state earlier this morning. Yet the fairly comfortable wins on familiar turf for The Donald and Hillary still won't silence the rising chorus of questions about their campaigns.
In the case of Trump, the Empire State results showed yet again that the real-estate billionaire has a strong base of support in predominately white working-class enclaves like his native Queens -- the original "Archie Bunker country" -- which he swept in today's voting. But in politics, love can be -- pardon the expression -- trumped by good organization. And winning New York didn't change the narrative that rival campaigns -- especially Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who came in a dismal third -- are picking off delegates to help Republican insiders who detest Trump derail him at July's Cleveland convention.
Clinton, on the other hand, grabbed the solid victory that most pundits had long expected -- powered by her usual solid support from non-whites who comprise a growing part of the Democratic Party base, and by New York's closed primary system that shut out independents who've voted heavily for her rival, the far-left Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in earlier states.
The former secretary of state triumphed despite much larger and more enthusiastic, hipster-oriented crowds from places like Brooklyn's Williamsburg who flooded Sanders rallies as if he was peddling artisinal pickles from a truck fueled by Pabst Blue Ribbon. Indeed, CNN exit polling showed that Sanders grabbed some 72 percent of voters aged 18-29.
So what's the problem for last night's winners? Never before have two candidates led their parties so late in the nominating process with such high unfavorable numbers -- with a whopping 65 percent of the electorate disapproving of Trump, yet Clinton unpopular with 56 percent of those same voters, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
The notion that November's election could essentially become an unpopularity contest is fueling a deeper sense among the American public: That it's not just the 2016 field of candidates, but the much bigger machine of U.S. democracy, is increasingly failing them.
New York State, scene of yesterday's balloting, only threw gasoline on those flames of unease.
The state's incredibly restrictive voting laws -- crafted in the 19th Century to prevent machine-boss scullduggery, but increasing an incumbent-protection racket -- set the deadline for voters to switch political parties back in October, long before most typical voters started paying attention to the rise of unconventional candidates such as Trump and Sanders.
Experts say the closed-party primary -- similar to here in Pennsylvania -- and the arcane laws left as many as 3 million would-be voters sitting on the sidelines. Currently, 28 percent of New York voters are independent. Even two of Trump's children didn't switch their registration in time.
"There is a large voter turnout -- despite 3 million people not allowed to participate," Sanders told reporters this morning during a Manhattan walk-through before departing for Pennsylvania and a boisterous rally on the Penn State campus.
But over the course of the day, the disenfranchisement of voters grew even worse as numerous voters in Brooklyn, the largest of New York City's five boroughs, showed up at their polling place only to discover they'd somehow been swept up in a massive and unannounced purge of some 126,000 borough Democrats from the voter registration rolls. In other locations, poll workers failed to show up or promised voting machines weren't delivered.
"There is nothing more sacred in our nation than the right to vote, yet election after election, reports come in of people who were inexplicably purged from the polls, told to vote at the wrong location or unable to get in to their polling site," the New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer, said in a statement last night. But the Broolyn fiasco was just the latest in a string of 2016 embarrassments for the American way of voting, including 5-hour lines in Arizona where officials had simply closed dozens of polling places, many in low-income areas with large non-white populations.
For Republicans, there is an additional dilemma: The growing possibility that Trump won't get the 1.237 delegates he'll need for a first-ballot victory, and that party elites will overlook the billionaire's lead in primary votes as delegates become "unbound" and start moving toward Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or even some so-called "white night" who didn't face the electorate.
But Trump's overwhelming win last night — in which he was expected to get at least 75 of New York's 95 delegates, and possibly all of them — and a string of upcoming Northeastern states where The Donald is favored should ease the pain of the delegate erosion that he experienced in states such as Louisiana and Georgia.
Yet even Trump has made crusading against the broken process now a major theme of his boisterous campaign rallies.
"It is a rigged and corrupt system," Trump told a rally in Buffalo earlier this week, citing a process in Colorado where voters were offered neither a primary or a caucus but convention delegates were selected by the party insiders.