New York's Presidential Primary Is Back On, Pleasing Progressives

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has formally withdrawn from the Democratic race, still hopes to generate support for his populist agenda.
Sen. Bernie Sanders withdrew from the presidential primary in April but wants to stay on the ballot in states that have yet t
Sen. Bernie Sanders withdrew from the presidential primary in April but wants to stay on the ballot in states that have yet to vote.

The New York Democratic presidential primary will proceed on June 23, following a second ruling in federal court on Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd 
Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that earlier this month had reinstated the election. 

Democratic officials on the New York State Board of Elections announced in late April that they were canceling the presidential primary on the grounds that former Vice President Joe Biden’s bid for the nomination is now uncontested. The board argued that, in light of the circumstances, holding the election would impose unnecessary financial costs and public health risks.

But former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang sued to overturn the decision, arguing that New Yorkers have a right to cast a ballot in favor of another candidate.

Ultimately that argument won out, overjoying progressive activists in general and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in particular. Sanders seeks to amass enough convention delegates in New York and other states to give him a voice in shaping the Democratic Party platform and rules.

“This is a great day for democracy, both for N.Y. voters and for all Americans who cherish their right to vote,” said George Albro, a pro-Sanders New York attorney who joined Yang in the lawsuit.

Larry Cohen, chairman of Our Revolution, the group that emerged from Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, cited the 2nd Circuit’s decision as a significant win for those advocating for “democratic reform within the Democratic Party.” Cohen, who is also a member of the Democratic National Committee, had threatened to try to disqualify New York’s entire convention delegation absent a primary, arguing that allocating delegates without such a contest violated party rules.

“Democrats have a right to elect their delegates in New York as they do in every other state,” he said.

The 2nd Circuit ruling upholds a May 5 decision by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres of the Southern District of New York, who maintained that canceling the election violated the voting rights of New York residents who wanted to support delegates for Sanders or other candidates.

The board of elections appealed the decision to the 2nd Circuit with help from the New York attorney general’s office. But in a hearing last Friday, the appeals court judges were skeptical of the state’s arguments, noting that other states where the coronavirus pandemic is also raging have proceeded with their elections. 

It also came out during the hearing that just two counties in the state lacked other contested races and would therefore cancel their primaries entirely. That fact cast doubt on the cost savings of canceling the presidential primary alone and contradicted earlier assertions from the board of elections and the New York Democratic Party that as many as 20 counties would not hold elections if there were no presidential contest.

Following Tuesday’s ruling, the board of elections said it would not appeal the ruling further. 

If the Democratic Party is going to defeat Donald Trump and mobilize its base — many of whose lives have been upended by the COVID-19 crisis — it needs to put forward a platform that matches the scale of the crisis, and transforms our country for the better. Sochie Nnaemeka, New York Working Families Party

Thanks to an executive order issued by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in response to the pandemic, New Yorkers are receiving absentee ballot request forms in the mail. State residents can obtain ballots to vote by mail without having to cite any reason for their absentee status.

Sanders and his supporters hope to win enough votes in New York and other forthcoming primaries to secure some 25% of the seats on two influential Democratic convention committees: the panel overseeing the party platform and the panel with authority over party rules and bylaws. With that level of representation on the key committees, Sanders partisans could submit a minority report for consideration on the convention floor that could help nudge the party platform to the left and make permanent the reforms that the party adopted for the 2020 nominating contest, such as the disempowerment of “super-delegates.”

 “If the Democratic Party is going to defeat Donald Trump and mobilize its base — many of whose lives have been upended by the COVID-19 crisis — it needs to put forward a platform that matches the scale of the crisis, and transforms our country for the better,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, in a statement applauding the appeals court’s decision. 

Sanders has already reached a deal with the Biden campaign that a total of 300 of his supporters will fill statewide convention delegate spots, which losing candidates have traditionally forfeited. But in the remaining primaries, he remains free to contest for the delegates awarded by congressional district. He will have to receive more than 15% of the vote in a district to win delegates there.

Sanders’ presence on the primary ballot is also liable to help down-ballot progressive candidates by increasing progressive turnout. A number of primary challengers, such as Bronx middle-school principal Jamaal Bowman, are taking on entrenched Democratic incumbents in Congress and the state legislature.

Although Sanders withdrew from the presidential race and subsequently endorsed Biden in early April, he made clear that he wanted to stay on the ballot in states that had yet to vote. An attorney for the Sanders campaign submitted a letter to the New York Board of Elections in April arguing in favor of preserving the primary. And Jeff Weaver, a top adviser to Sanders, decried the board’s decision against him when it came out.

But the burden of mobilizing voters to cast ballots is likely to fall on progressive groups like the Working Families Party, Our Revolution and Once Again PAC. The latter organization was formed specifically to help Sanders amass convention delegates and fund expenses associated with helping those delegates participate in the convention.

“We join Berniecrats across the state in celebrating the opportunity to vote for him and welcome all progressives interested in reform to join us,” said Charles Lenchner, a co-founder of Once Again PAC.

Their long-standing disdain for Gov. Cuomo provides New York progressives with an extra source of motivation as they try to rally Sanders diehards to the polls. 

Cuomo signed a budget into law in early April that contained an obscure provision enabling the primary’s cancellation by empowering the board of elections to remove candidates from the ballot who were no longer in the running. And though the board is technically independent, one of its two Democratic commissioners, Andrew Spano, was appointed at the request of the state’s Democratic Party, which Cuomo effectively controls.

“New York Democrats deserve better than the autocrats currently in charge,” Lenchner said.

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