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 SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget Sanders calls for social distancing, masks and disinfection on planes as flights operate at full capacity Nina Turner addresses Biden's search for a running mate MORE (I-Vt.) suspended his campaign and endorsed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage The Memo: Trump grows weak as clock ticks down Nina Turner addresses Biden's search for a running mate 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.

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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 John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report 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 CuomoChicago mayor issues emergency travel advisory for those coming from states with coronavirus surges Chamber of Commerce, trade groups call for national standard on requiring masks De Blasio says NYC public schools plan to reopen in September 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.”

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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 ClintonCarville repeats prediction that Trump will drop out of race What's behind Trump's slump? Americans are exhausted, for one thing Trump campaign reserves air time in New Mexico 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 NadlerNadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks 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 GillibrandDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights The Hill's 12:30 Report: Fauci 'aspirationally hopeful' of a vaccine by winter The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar 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 ButtigiegDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights Democrats debate Biden effort to expand map against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote 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.”