New York presidential primary cancellation sparks progressive fury

New York presidential primary cancellation sparks progressive fury
© iStock/Greg Nash/Madeline Monroe

The decision to cancel New York’s Democratic presidential primary in June is sparking backlash from progressives, potentially threatening the party’s goal of unifying its voters ahead of the general election.

Progressives argue the vote from Democrats on the State Board of Elections deprives their wing of the party from voicing their preference ahead of the Democratic National Convention in August.

While Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Biden to seek minimum wage in COVID-19 proposal MORE (I-Vt.) suspended his campaign and endorsed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP MORE earlier this month, he plans to stay on the ballots in remaining contests in an effort to gather enough delegates to exert pressure on the party to adopt more progressive platforms at the convention.


New York’s primary could have been the best opportunity for Sanders to garner a sizeable number of delegates in the remaining primaries, with 274 pledged delegates at stake. Those delegates will now go to Biden as the only candidate remaining in the presidential race.

Sanders’s senior adviser Jeff Weaver called the move “a blow to democracy” in a statement reacting to the move on Monday.

“No one asked New York to cancel the election,” Weaver said. “The DNC [Democratic National Committee] did not request it. The Biden campaign did not request it. And our campaign communicated that we wanted to remain on the ballot.”

Officials from the New York State Democratic Party argue the move was done for safety and resource purposes after the coronavirus pandemic shut down large parts of the country. No other state has yet canceled their Democratic presidential primary, though Republicans have canceled 2020 primaries and caucuses in South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Alaska and Kansas in order to throw the maximum amount of support behind President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE

“We shouldn’t have nonessential primaries. There is only one candidate who is running,” New York Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs said.

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoGovernors say no additional vaccine doses coming, despite Trump admin promise Mississippi runs out of coronavirus vaccine as state expands eligibility Cuomo announces performance initiative to revive New York's arts economy MORE (D) said he was not going to second-guess the State Board of Elections but said, “I know there are a lot of election employees ... who are nervous about conducting elections.”


Sanders’s allies have pledged to take the issue up with the DNC ahead of the party’s gathering in August.

“We will not stand by and allow New York Democrats to be denied the opportunity to influence their party and its platform at the convention in August,” Our Revolution, a Sanders-aligned group, said in a statement. “We will be forced to go to the credentials committee and challenge any delegates that New York sends to the convention.”

The backlash comes as Democrats work to unify around Biden in their effort to defeat Trump after the primary race in 2016 between former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFor Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team Millennials and the great reckoning on race Biden chooses Amanda Gorman as youngest known inaugural poet MORE and Sanders split the party. However, Monday’s vote to cancel the election risks fueling skepticism among progressive voters already wary of the Democratic establishment.

“It further fractures the party, which is the opposite of what we need to be doing,” said Lindsey Boylan, a progressive who is challenging House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPelosi names 9 impeachment managers Republicans gauge support for Trump impeachment Clyburn blasts DeVos and Chao for 'running away' from 25th Amendment fight MORE (D-N.Y.) in the state’s Democratic primary.

Progressives say they feel that the move by New York will prevent their movement, led by Sanders, from pushing for policies like “Medicare for All” and tuition-free college at the convention, fueling bitterness toward an establishment that they say has not yet taken their demands seriously.

“That’s what progressives really think,” Boylan said. “That the Democratic leadership is not hearing and is not listening.”

New York progressives argue that the workaround for voting in the pandemic could have been conducting the primary entirely by vote-by-mail, going further than Cuomo’s recent executive order requiring state election officials to send postage-paid absentee ballot applications to all voters.

Other congressional and legislative races will be held on June 23 after the state delayed its primary from its original date in April.

“The answer to that isn’t to cancel an election,” said Abdul El-Sayed, who supported Sanders in the primary. “The answer to that is to facilitate voting from home. The fact that the Board of Elections elected to do the former rather than the latter, elect to cancel the election, suggests that they are not up to the task and they don’t appreciate the gravity of what they’re dealing with.”

Additionally, progressives have not forgotten about a proposal from the state’s Public Finance Commission last year that would raise the vote threshold third parties need to obtain a spot on the ballot, affecting progressive third parties like the Working Families Party.

But proponents of the primary’s cancellation dismiss claims that there is a bigger effort to silence progressives ahead of the party’s convention.

“There’s no conspiracy. There’s no lack of transparency. It’s just that the primary is over. New York is in the state that it is in because of the pandemic, and that’s the unfortunate situation where we find ourselves,” said Jon Reinish, a former aide to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats looking to speed through Senate impeachment trial With Senate at stake, Georgia is on all our minds Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers MORE (D-N.Y.).

Proponents maintain there was not enough capacity to hold the presidential primary given concerns over the state’s budget and its status as the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, and they note that Biden would have been the likely winner anyway.

“Here in Monroe County, they [were] scrambling to find polling locations,” said Alex Yudelson, chief of staff to the mayor of Rochester, N.Y., and a candidate for New York’s State Assembly. “Some of the polling locations were in senior homes, and they don’t want people in senior homes, so they’re struggling to find new locations. They’re struggling to find people who want to work as election inspectors.”

He added that while he thinks working toward vote-by-mail elections is a good goal, it would be logistically challenging for New York to make that change quickly.

“With this election less than two months away, I think it would be hard for our Board of Elections and boards of election across the state to just turn around on a dime and administer the first ever all vote-by-mail election [in the state],” he said.

However, Yudelson said he empathized with Sanders supporters wanting a bigger platform at the convention, citing his status as a delegate for former presidential candidate Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits Buttigieg confirmation hearing slated for Thursday James Murdoch predicts 'a reckoning' for media after Capitol riot MORE.

“I would have still loved to vote for delegates for Pete so that someone like him can have an increased voice at the convention, so I certainly understand why people would be frustrated by this,” he said. “I’m just not sure there was any good scenario here, and sometimes that’s the case in a situation like this. In one case you’re jeopardizing public health, and in the other, you’re jeopardizing what people feel is a Democratic right to select those delegates.”