In a move that seems likely to interfere with the intraparty healing process, New York election officials have canceled the June 23 Democratic presidential primary on public-health grounds, infuriating Bernie Sanders’s suspended, but not yet abandoned, campaign. The primary had already been delayed by Governor Cuomo from its original April 28 date until June 23, when the state holds its non-presidential primaries. Furthermore, three days ago Cuomo ordered that every registered voter in New York be sent a postage-paid application to vote by mail in the primary.
But the risk of coronavirus infection among poll workers and voters who might choose to vote in person in the 20 counties without any contested non-presidential primary elections was cited as sufficient grounds for bagging a Biden-Sanders primary in which the defeated candidate hoped to amass enough delegates to maintain some leverage over platform deliberations at the national convention.
The decision was made subject to an unusual process, as the Associated Press reports:
The Democratic members of the State’s Board of Elections voted Monday to nix the primary. New York will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on June 23 …
Both the state’s Democratic Party and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have said they didn’t ask election commissioners to make the change, which can happen because of 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 idea is that canceling the primary will lower in-person turnout generally and avoid the need for an in-person primary at all in the above-mentioned counties, which are mostly upstate. But it conflicts with the expressed wishes of Sanders and his campaign, which asked New York not to take this step over the weekend, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
Sanders backers say canceling the election would send an exclusionary message at a time when party leaders should be focused on uniting Democrats behind Mr. Biden.
“This could be a public-relations disaster for the party,” said George Albro, co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network, which supports Mr. Sanders.
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,” wrote the lawyer, Malcolm Seymour.
The move was based on the legal theory that Sanders had already withdrawn from the contest, which his campaign stoutly denies. And any effort to shrug off the decision as a technical call by obscure election officials is complicated by the fact that state party chairman Jay Jacobs publicly supported it.
Jacobs told the New York Times he had no idea what the decision meant for New York’s delegation to the national convention:
Mr. Jacobs said he was not sure what it would mean for the state’s delegate count at the convention; that decision would be left to the Democratic National Committee’s rules committee.
“The D.N.C. has been very clear: the D.N.C. does not want to do anything that looks like we’re being unfair,” said Mr. Jacobs. “And we’re not being unfair, we’re just reacting to a global pandemic which happens to be centered in New York at the time.”
That’s not how Sanders 2020 Senior Advisor Jeff Weaver sees it:
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 it wanted to remain on the ballot. 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 eliminating people’s right to vote completely.
New York has clearly violated its approved delegate selection plan. If this is not remedied, New York should lose all its delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention and there should be a broader review by the Democratic Party of New York’s checkered pattern of voter disenfranchisement.
This is probably a headache Biden and Sanders and those looking for peace in the Democratic Party didn’t need and another illustration of why the ability to hold all-mail-ballot elections during an emergency like this one can be very useful.