Sun File Photo

People gather at their local polling location, St. Luke’s Church, to vote in 2018's midterm election. New York State's Democratic Presidential Primary has been canceled by the state's Board of Elections.

April 29, 2020

Canceled Presidential Primary Draws Backlash From Students, Former Candidates

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The New York Board of Elections is facing backlash, two potential lawsuits from former candidates and opposition from Cornell students after canceling the June 23 Democratic Presidential Primary. The move raised concerns of democratic subversion from campaigns, delegates and Cornell student groups.

Cornell Progressives, formerly known as Students for Bernie, called the primary’s cancelation an “insult to democracy,” and Cornell Democrats expressed that “there are extremely valid concerns being raised over democratic subversion, disenfranchisement, and what this means for party unity,” in statements to The Sun.

The election board’s justification for the move comes from a provision in the state’s budget, passed on April 3, allowing the BOE to remove candidates from the ballot who have publicly suspended their campaigns, or who have requested to be removed from the ballot. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) exited the race on April 8.

In light of the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced a plan to mail all voters absentee ballots applications on April 24 for the June 23 primary. Three days later, the presidential primary was canceled on April 27.

Removing presidential candidates effectively eliminates ballots in about 20 out of New York’s 62 counties –– there were no other primary races there. As of now, primary elections for national and state congressional seats are still scheduled for the June 23 date.

“Other elections remain [uncanceled] and vote by mail has already been funded, so claims of public danger [by voting] are unsubstantiated … these decisions only act to ostracize progressives from joining a Biden coalition,” the Students for Bernie statement read.

Ryan McHugh, a delegate for Sanders in New York’s 23rd congressional district, hoped to represent the Vermont senator as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in August. The move silences the progressive vote, McHugh said.

“The main reason I’m upset is that, when we started this process, the rule that allowed for a candidate to be removed from the primary ballot was not in place,” McHugh said.

The Sanders campaign demanded that the senator remain on the ballot in a letter to New York State’s BOE on Sunday.

Malcolm Seymour, a Sanders campaign lawyer, noted in the letter that there were nearly 60,000 signatures obtained for Sanders and 184 authorized pledged delegates across New York’s 27 congressional districts. Involuntary ballot removal would “severely impact Senator Sanders’ core substantive rights” and “undermine the Democratic Party’s interest in self-governance and unification,” Seymour argued.

The letter did not deter the commissioners from determining on Monday that candidates who publicly declared their exit from the race would be omitted from the New York primary ballot.

“At a time when the goal is to avoid unnecessary social contact, our conclusion was that there was no purpose in holding a beauty contest primary that would marginally increase the risk to both voters and poll workers,” co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections Douglas Kellener told CNN.

Before New York’s delegates can be allocated to a candidate, the state party will need to submit an updated delegate selection plan to be approved by the DNC’s Rules and By-Laws Committee.

As of late Wednesday night, Sanders has not announced intended legal action, but in a statement on Monday, Sanders campaign senior advisor Jeff Weaver called for New York to “lose all of its delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention” if the Board of Elections decision was “not remedied”.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang announced that he would sue the New York State Board of Elections in federal court, saying that the move is unconstitutional. Yang claims that his removal from the ballot, “denies voters due process and denies voters the right to vote.”

Stephen Carpineta, communications director of the New York Progressive Action Network, said to The Sun he wanted to still be a delegate in the race.

“I’m a pledged delegate candidate in New York State and there are a group of us that are willing to hop onto a class action suit,” he said.

New York’s constitution mandates an in-person election, but the governor was allowed to issue an executive order for an absentee ballot due to the pandemic, Estelle Rogers, Chair of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Election Law, told The Sun.

“My view is that in terms of legalities that New York set up a situation that would make it very easy for them to have full participation and that it is to have an ‘all mail’ election by use of absentee ballots,” Rogers said. “They could do it now with the partial list of candidates but they could certainly also do it for a whole list of candidates.”

The presidential primary is not the only canceled June 23 election. An executive order from Cuomo on Friday also postponed state assembly and state senate special elections. Those races will now be decided during the general election in November.

The primary races for Congress, Ithaca City Judge and Tompkins County District Attorney in Ithaca and the surrounding area will continue as scheduled on June 23.

Correction, April 30, 1:02 p.m.: A previous version of this article misstated the name of Cornell Progressives. The group used to be called Students for Bernie, but has since changed its names since Sanders dropped out of the presidential race. The article has since been updated to reflect this change.