The New York State Board of Elections moved to scrap the state’s June 23 Democratic primary on Monday, disappointing those who had still hoped to exercise a right to vote. Particularly, many who wished to cast their votes for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a symbolic show of support will no longer have that opportunity.
The move to cancel the primary comes less than 24 hours after lawyers representing the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ submitted a letter opposing his planned omission from the ballot as the former campaign endeavors to maximize its influence on the eventual policy platforms put forth by former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
According to the New York Times, state officials had “struggled” with whether or not to cancel the voting contest in the wake of Sanders’ decision to suspend his campaign on April 8. But in an interview given to City & State shortly after Sanders ended his candidacy, state Board of Election Democratic co-chair Douglas Kellner acknowledged that the primary would “probably” be cancelled, and Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, said that he hoped Sanders would “give his blessing to states that want to remove him from the ballot” in the interest of saving time and money while also safeguarding public health amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But, Sanders hoped to remain on the ballot in New York as part of a larger effort to shore up convention delegates nationally in order for his allies to receive seats on the rules and bylaws, party platform, and convention credentials committees at the Democratic National Convention this summer. Winning a quarter share of each committees’ membership would enable the Sanders bloc to submit a minority report to the convention floor, granting progressives influence on key party issues.
Five days after Sanders suspended his campaign, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a budget bill that included an errant provision allowing the state’s board of elections to remove candidates who had suspended their campaigns from the primary ballot. With no other candidates left on the ballot besides Biden, the move paved the way for the state to cancel the primary in its entirety, which is why Sanders lawyers believe it should not have been applied in the first place.
In the letter to New York campaign officials, Sanders campaign attorney Malcolm Seymour argues that the provision allowing Cuomo to remove Sanders from the ballot should not apply to the Vermont senator “retroactively,” since he might have acted differently if it had been in effect when he decided to suspend his campaign.
“The retroactive application of [the change in election law] would severely impact Senator Sanders’ core substantive rights,” Seymour wrote in the letter. “Because of the severity of this potential deprivation, the presumption against retroactive application must operate with maximum force.”
The decision makes New York the first state to officially cancel an election contest amid COVID-19 concerns, weeks after a disastrous primary turnout in Wisconsin turned into a public health nightmare. But experts warned that the decision to cancel primaries entirely without offering the option to vote by mail-in or absentee ballot could have an equally damaging outcome: a chilling effect on democracy.
Following the Monday announcement, Sanders’ campaign responded to the news with upset over the New York State Board of Elections’ decision. “Today’s decision by the State of New York Board of Elections is an outrage, a blow to American democracy, and must be overturned by the DNC,” the letter reads. “While we understood that we did not have the votes to win the Democratic nomination, our campaign was suspended, not ended, because people in every state should have the right to express their preference.”
“Their decision is bad,” Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 campaign, told HuffPost. “The ability of the people to weigh in was stripped from them before they had an opportunity to cast a ballot.”
In an op-ed for CNN, Nicole Austin-Hillery, executive director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch, wrote that even as the country wrestles the life and death decisions associated with a pandemic, protecting the right to vote is “more important now than ever.”
“Ensuring people’s right to vote is at the heart of protecting our democracy,” Austin-Hillery writes. “The playbook has been written. Now governors and lawmakers need to show courage and conviction, prioritize the interests of the citizens they were elected to serve, and follow it.”
As a result of these actions, Twitter users — including a number of pundits and critics — are also chiming in to condemn New York for canceling the primary, saying that it’s an “act of voter suppression” that should not be tolerated, even during a pandemic.
Outrageous: New York has cancelled primary. Bernie is still on the ballot and people have a right to vote for him. If they want to incite Bernie voters to boycott the November elections, they are doing a great job. This bullshit decision must be overturned. Vote by mail is safe. https://t.co/Ye5fXG9w8c
— Daniel Denvir (@DanielDenvir) April 27, 2020
An act of voter suppression & NYS is not hiding it. Cuomo is no Democratic hero. NYer’s have yet to cast their vote for the presidential primary.
There is no reason why we cannot vote by mail instead of finding excuses to undercut voting powers.https://t.co/snlLed8CdI
— Shaniyat Chowdhury for US Congress NY5 (@Shaniyat2020) April 27, 2020
New York is living through its worst public health crisis in at least a century, and the state’s 20 million residents now have no way to meaningfully express a policy preference for Medicare For All in the primary.https://t.co/iqcCWCfc3Z
— Zach Schonfeld (@zzzzaaaacccchhh) April 27, 2020
“No one asked to cancel the New York 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,” Sanders’ statement says. “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.”
Sanders’ letter also communicated that in doing this, New York has violated its approved delegate selection plan, and if the situation is not rectified, the state should ultimately lose all its delegates in the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?