Campaigns & Elections

Bernie Bros, Yang Gang enraged over NY’s canceled primary

Some people care more about casting symbolic votes for former candidates than preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Andrew Yang filed a lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections for cancelling the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

Andrew Yang filed a lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections for cancelling the state’s Democratic presidential primary. YASAMIN JAFARI TEHRANI/Shutterstock

On Sunday, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang filed a lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections for cancelling the state’s Democratic presidential primary election on June 23.

The suit filed by Yang – who lives in Manhattan – along with several others who had filed to be his delegates at the Democratic National Convention, said that Yang should not have been removed from the state’s ballot since he met all of the requirements to remain on it. The cancellation of the primary “denies voters due process and denies voters the right to vote, and therefore must be invalidated,” the suit argues.

The election was cancelled on Monday, after the Democratic-appointed commissioners of the state BOE voted to cancel it. The decision was made following Sen. Bernie Sanders’ suspension of his presidential campaign on April 8, making Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee. Sanders has since endorsed Biden. Yang dropped out of the race on Feb. 11 and endorsed Biden on March 10. A provision in this year’s state’s budget gave the state BOE the power to remove candidates no longer in the running off the ballot.

While the state’s presidential primary was cancelled, it will continue to hold all other state and federal primaries scheduled for June 23. As a result, about a third of the state’s counties that do not have any contested primaries at the congressional or local level will not have polls open.

The state has explained that it cancelled the primary out of concern for its residents’ welfare. Since New York is the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, sending people to the polls could easily cause the virus to spread. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration believes it doesn’t have the legal authority to exclusively conduct the primary with mail-in ballots, which means that polling places would have remained open. 

Cancelling the primary will allow polling places in jurisdictions without any contested elections, including the 20 counties, to close their polling centers. As it is, the state BOE’s new responsibility to mail absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter will pose a logistical challenge. Reducing the number of voters and ballots by eradicating the uncontested primary will be safer and easier for the state to manage.

The state’s Republican presidential primary was cancelled in March, as no other candidates met the ballot requirements other than President Donald Trump. However, leaving Democratic candidates who were no longer in the running for the presidency but met the ballot requirements is what appears to be angering some Democratic voters. Denying the state’s residents a chance to vote for candidates such as Yang and Sanders can prevent them from getting any delegates from the state to attend the DNC. 

The Sanders campaign and many of its supporters in the state had requested that he remain on the ballot, for this reason. “What the Board of Elections is ignoring is that the primary process not only leads to a nominee but also the selection of delegates which helps determine the platform and rules of the Democratic Party,” Jeff Weaver, one of Sanders’ senior advisers, said in a statement sent to Politico. “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.”

Weaver has suggested that the state convert the election to a vote-by-mail system if it's concerned with health risks posed by the virus. Sanders has shared the statement written by Weaver on Twitter but has yet to address Yang’s lawsuit.

Sanders in particular had hoped to win enough delegates nationwide so they could hold 25% of the seats on major convention committees that dictate the party’s rules, platform and convention credentials. The New York Democratic Party will need to submit a new delegate selection plan to the DNC, which will then review it and make a decision regarding the fate of New York’s Democratic delegates. However, the DNC could ultimately award all of the delegates to the remaining candidate on the ballot: Biden.

Jay Jacobs, chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, told City & State that the move wasn’t intended to completely remove all of Sanders’ delegates but to keep voters safe, saying that the state will still be voting on delegates sometime before mid-July ahead of a state committee meeting. Jacobs also said that the state party is open to allocating delegates to Sanders. “The whole purpose of what we did is not political, it’s health-related,” he said. “It wasn’t to cut out all of Bernie Sanders’ delegates, that was never the intention.” 

“We closed all nonessential businesses in New York … to protect people,” Jacobs told City & State. “I think we should do the same thing for all nonessential elections. And if this isn’t an example of a nonessential election, I don’t know what is because we know the result.”

Despite the underlying logic behind the decision to cancel the primary – being that there is only one Democratic presidential candidate remaining and the state is in the midst of a pandemic – some left-wing New Yorkers have expressed indignation about it on Twitter, referring to it as “voter suppression” and “Machiavellian.” Some have lamented the fact that they’re unable to cast a symbolic vote for Medicare-for-all, a major tenet of Sanders’ platform, by casting a vote for the senator.

Some have also suggested that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a known Biden supporter, is attempting to provide Biden with all of the state’s Democratic delegates to bolster his own political standing with the DNC. “This is Cuomo trying to be the party boss who goes to the party convention with 284 delegates in his pocket,” Larry Cohen, chairman of the board of Our Revolution, a progressive group, told HuffPost. ”Whatever support he built for himself for his handling of the pandemic is definitely eroding.”

Many Democrats have argued that the state could have kept the candidates on the ballot and encouraged the state’s residents to vote by mail to reduce any risk of viral transmission. Jacobs told City & State that he’s open to the idea in the future but that it’s not feasible for the state to make that happen by June 23.