Democratic Primary Canceled in New York

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Biden Courage Awards last year in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York officials on Monday junked the already delayed 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but the state will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on June 23.

Citing concern about spreading Covid-19 in the state where the disease has hit hardest, the decision by the state Board of Elections employs a provision of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget law to remove Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders from the primary ballot.

The provision grants New York’s election officials to remove from the ballot any candidate who has announced they have stopped running and is thus “no longer eligible” to win the nomination.

Sanders withdrew from the 2020 race three weeks ago, one day after the Wisconsin primary, and has since endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the presidency.

Urging the Democratic National Convention to overturn the order, Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign, called the decision Monday “an outrage [and] a blow to American democracy.”

“No one asked New York to cancel the election. The DNC didn’t request it. The Biden campaign didn’t request it. And our campaign communicated that we wanted to remain on the ballot,” Weaver said in a statement Monday. “Given that the primary is months away, the proper response must be to make the election safe — such as going to all vote by mail — rather than to eliminating people’s right to vote completely.”

Though the Democratic presidential race is no longer on the ballot, New Yorkers can still vote in the other races via absentee ballot, thanks to a new Cuomo executive order. The mail-in ballots are postage-paid.

Some political experts called New York’s move a sensible one, given the climate.

“Wisconsin showed the rest of the country how to not to conduct an election during a pandemic,” Stephen J. Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at University of Mary Washington said in an interview Monday. “New York officials are reacting reasonably to a once-in-a-century crisis — primary seems particularly useless when there’s only candidate still competing.”

In the five days between withdrawing from the race and endorsing Biden, Sanders had urged his supporters to still vote for him in upcoming state primaries, saying more delegates would help tip the Democratic Party toward his policies.

“While Vice President Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions,” Sanders had said in an April 8 livestreamed address from his home in Burlington, Vermont. At the time, Sanders had 911 delegates to Biden’s 1,226.

The party platform will be decided at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, which was postponed from July to August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Cuomo was reticent on the topic Monday at a midday press conference but did tell reporters that he would not second-guess the board’s decision. “I know there are number of election employees — employees of boards of elections — who are nervous about conducting elections, but I’ll leave it up to the Board of Elections,” Cuomo said.

During a press briefing Monday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he respected the board’s decision and believes that limiting the election activity to a minimum during the coronavirus crisis makes practical sense.

“I was a proud supporter of Senator Sanders,” the mayor said. “He obviously made a decision to leave the race and support Vice President Biden. I think that matter is closed.”

De Blasio called normal elections “an indicator of our Renaissance, of our resurgence.”

“But I think that’s something that obviously is going to happen in the fall, not now,” he said.

Departing from the ordinary was an idea echoed by Ronald Schurin, an associate professor in residence at University of Connecticut.

He agreed that canceling New York’s presidential primaries would have had “tremendous impact” on Sanders’ supporters “in a normal year.”

“Now, with everything up in the air, not many people seriously thinking that there’s going to be any kind of interesting convention in any event — not even the grand coronation that takes place — now,” Schurin said in an interview Monday, “because, if a convention is held at all, it will be held in some kind of virtual or very limited sense.”

Craig M. Burnett, an associate professor of political science at Hofstra University, said Monday that Sanders would have been hard-pressed to tilt the Democratic Party’s platform with the delegates he stood to gain in New York.

“I think it is safe to say that Bernie Sanders has already had a substantial impact on the party platform of the Democratic Party,” Burnett said.

“While I understand the desire to have more representatives at the convention, I suspect the impact of having more delegates would be minimal.”

Farnsworth, the political science professor from Mary Washington, also spoke to the momentum that the Vermont senator has already achieved.

“The Sanders activists would have liked to have a primary take place so that liberal voices could be more prominent at the convention, and party officials can find ways to make sure that the more liberal elements of the Democratic party will be heard regardless of whether or not the primary takes place,” Farnsworth said. 

“The reality though is that former Vice President Biden is going to need a significant amount of liberal energy in his campaign,” Farnsworth continued, “and it seems quite likely that Biden will move in the direction of Sanders’ politics regardless of the whether or not there’s a New York primary.”

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