In an unprecedented move, New York has cancelled – as opposed to postponed, a many states have done – its Democratic presidential primary that was scheduled for June 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic members of the State’s Board of Elections voted on Monday to scrap the primary. New York will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on June 23.
Commissioner Andrew Spano said he had pondered at length, reaching a decision on Monday morning. He said he worried about potentially forcing voters and poll workers to choose between their democratic duty and their health. While there will still be other offices on the ballot, Spano reasoned it made sense to give voters an opportunity to choose in contested races but not to “have anyone on the ballot just for the purposes of issues at a convention”.
New York Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs has said that the cancellation of the state’s presidential primary would mean a lower expected turnout and a reduced need for polling places.
“It just makes so much sense given the extraordinary nature of the challenge,” Jacobs said last week.
Local election officials and voting groups have called on the state to use federal funds to buy cleaning supplies and protective gear, and boost staff ahead of 2020 elections.
Both the state’s Democratic Party and Governor Andrew Cuomo have said they did not ask election commissioners to make the change, which is allowed thanks to a little-known provision in the recently passed state budget that allows the New York board of elections to remove names of any candidates who have suspended or terminated their campaign from the ballot.
The decision to cancel a Democratic primary is left up to Democratic state election commissioners.
Former Democratic presidential candidate and US Senator Bernie Sanders announced earlier this month that he had suspended his campaign. In a Sunday letter, a lawyer for the Sanders campaign asked the commissioners not to cancel the primary.
“Senator Sanders has collaborated with state parties, the national party and the Biden campaign, to strengthen the Democrats by aligning the party’s progressive and moderate wings. His removal from the ballot would hamper those efforts, to the detriment of the party in the general election,” the lawyer, Malcolm Seymour, wrote in a letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
Bernie Sanders' campaign rips New York board of elections for removing him from the ballot, saying NY should lose all of its delegates to Democratic convention if not remedied. pic.twitter.com/hI29C5KfXR
— Sam Levine (@srl) April 27, 2020
Board Co-Chairman Douglas Kellner said the primary cancellation was a “very difficult decision,” but noted state law allows for removing candidates from the ballot when they have suspended their campaigns, as Sanders has done and, further, endorsed presumptive nominee Joe Biden.
“That has effectively ended the real contest for the presidential nomination,” Kellner said. “And what the Sanders supporters want is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency that exists now, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous.”
New York voters can now choose to vote with an absentee ballot in the June primaries under a Cuomo executive order that adds the risk of acquiring COVID-19 as a reason to vote absentee. Cuomo also recently announced the state is sending mail-in ballots to voters.