Originally postponed until June 23, New York State has now decided to scrap presidential primary voting altogether citing concerns over the Coronavirus. The reasoning, of course, is that with Sen. Bernie Sanders exiting the race, the primary would amount to what the Democratic chair of the New York State Board of Elections called, a “beauty contest.”
Following the decision, which could theoretically hinder former vice president Joe Biden’s ability to reach the needed 1,991 delegates necessary for clinching the nomination on the first round at the convention, lawsuits and criticism began raining down on the state.
As CNN reports on the matter, New York State officials believe that holding the primary, which would unnecessarily, in their view, draw out thousands of voters, could cause unneeded contact and further the spread of COVID-19, according to the co-chair of the Board of Elections:
Douglas Kellner told CNN the decision came after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign earlier this month, which “basically rendered the primary moot.”
“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,” said Kellner, one of the Democratic commissioners on the board.
The Democratic commissioners voted to remove a number of candidates who had ended their presidential campaigns from the ballot, including Sanders. That resulted in the cancellation of the primary, because former vice president Joe Biden was uncontested.
The decision, which is drawing criticism from many places, cut especially sharp with the Sanders campaign:
The decision by the State of New York Board of Elections is an outrage, a blow to American democracy, and must be overturned by the (Democratic National Committee),” Sanders campaign adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement. “Just last week Vice President Biden warned the American people that President Trump could use the current crisis as an excuse to postpone the November election. Well, he now has a precedent thanks to New York state.”
Weaver said that the state had violated its approved delegate selection plan and should lose its delegates to the national convention if “this is not remedied.”
Sanders isn’t the only candidate crying foul. Businessman and entrepreneur Andrew Yang filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections citing denial of due process rights on behalf of citizens unable to vote for their preferred candidate or, at this point, vote at all:
Yang, along with seven New Yorkers who filed to serve as Yang delegates to the Democratic National Convention, filed suit on Monday arguing that they should not be removed because they had otherwise met the requirements to be on the ballot.
The decision to remove Yang “denies voters due process and denies voters the right to vote, and therefore must be invalidated removing the authority for the Defendant to take the actions complained of herein,” reads the lawsuit, which was shared with POLITICO. The lawsuit notes that neither Yang nor the delegate candidates asked to be removed from the ballot.
As Yang’s lawsuit also points out, the entire delegation from New York sent to the Democratic National Convention could be imperiled since delegate selection is conducted under rules set forth by the Democratic National Committee. The Democratic presidential primary in New York would have allocated 274 pledged delegates, a tidy sum which Biden would have taken the vast majority of. Sanders would’ve picked up some as well, no doubt.
The New York State Democratic Party is working on a new delegate selection plan, and working with several campaigns including Biden and Sanders, to submit a new proposal to the DNC:
The changes have not yet been submitted to or approved by the DNC, which has jurisdiction over state parties and their delegate allocations to the national convention.
“Any substantive change to a state’s first determining step in allocating delegates like this one will need to be reviewed by the DNC’s Rules and By-Laws Committee,” DNC spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement. “Once the state party submits an updated delegate selection plan, the committee will review that plan and make a determination.”
Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the New York Democratic Party, told NY1 Monday evening that he would like to talk to both the Sanders and Biden campaigns to “try to come up with some fair allocations” of New York delegates.
In the end, any proposal concocted by the state party, and approved by the DNC, will likely skirt the voters of the state and come up with some way of allocating delegates to the campaigns and get them seated at the convention.
That move alone, allocating delegates without voter input, seems undemocratic in many ways and will assuredly cause even more consternation among voters feeling sidelined.
It can’t be left without saying that there is one politician that this decision could theoretically benefit. When asked about the board’s decision, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t see a problem with it:
Cuomo said at a news conference Monday that he would not “second guess” the state’s board of elections.
“I know there are a lot of election employees, employees of boards of elections who are nervous about conducting elections,” Cuomo said. “But I’ll leave it up to the board of elections.”
Writer Ed Condon, of Catholic News Agency, questioned whether the move by the NYS Board of Elections is a power grab to prevent Biden from amassing 1,991 delegates on the first round, thus ensuring a contested or “brokered” convention, where Andrew Cuomo could be the largest benefactor:
If New York’s decision triggers other states to cancel their own primaries, it is entirely possible that Biden could arrive at the Democratic convention without a guarantee of the nomination.
Assuming the convention begins without a majority of delegates pledged to Biden, the nomination process, during which delegates conduct floor votes, would become a live-fire exercise, rather than a pro forma step in Biden’s coronation as nominee.
If Biden does not secure a majority on the first ballot, delegates could offer another candidate from the floor.
In that event, New York’s own Gov. Andrew Cuomo looks the most likely to benefit from a potentially contested nominating convention. Cuomo has been widely praised for his handling of the coronavirus in New York, so far the state hardest hit by the virus.
That theory could be heading off into foil-hat land as a far-fetched outcome, but nothing is outside the realm of possibilities given the upheaval and unsettled nature the next several months will bring.
If Biden should fail to cross the 1,991 delegate threshold, then the convention itself could be thrown in chaos with Democrats allowed a “second chance” of picking someone else and casting Joe Biden aside. Up until this point, the probability of that outcome seemed very low to near-impossible. With New York’s decision to scrap their primary, however, the chances tick up ever so slightly.