BY THE VILLAGE SUN | To use a Bernie-ism, this is unprecedented!
Last Monday, New York’s Board of Elections canceled the state’s June 23 Democratic presidential primary, in the process, disenfranchising nearly 6 million registered voters.
In response, on Thursday, Andrew Yang — who dropped out of the race Feb. 11 — filed a federal lawsuit demanding that the primary be reinstated.
In another twist, on Friday a group of 10 potential Bernie Sanders delegates joined Yang’s suit.
The judge is slated to hold a hearing on the case on Monday.
Basically, both Yang and Sanders — who suspended his campaign April 8 — want the chance to impact the future of the Democratic Party by sending delegates from New York to the Democratic National Convention. Sanders has 184 authorized pledged delegates who had expected to be on the ballot.
For his part, Yang wants to continue to push his “universal income” plan — which is looking pretty prescient right now as the government sends Americans stimulus checks and beefed-up unemployment benefits in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, Sanders plans to keep promoting his agenda, including Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college tuition and forgiveness of student debt.
But if there is no primary in the Empire State, neither of them will win any delegates here, lessening their overall clout at the convention. Plus, there’s the possibility all the state’s delegates simply will be tossed to the more-establishment Biden, giving him and his supporters even more say on shaping the party.
The Board of Elections’ stunning move understandably has caused shockwaves.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s senior campaign adviser, said, “Today’s decision by the State of New York Board of Elections is an outrage, a blow to American democracy. … 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.”
“I said cancel rent, not the presidential primary,” said Mike Gianaris, the state Senate deputy majority leader. “It’s BS our presidential primary is canceled.”
Added state Senator Alessandra Biaggi, “This is ridiculous. New Yorkers can be safe — vote absentee — and still vote in a presidential primary.”
“It is completely wrong for the board to cancel New York’s presidential primary,” Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared. “This decision is not informed by public health.”
Both Sanders and Yang have already endorsed the former vice president. But when Sanders suspended his campaign — though without terminating it — he was adamant that he did not want his name removed from ballots since he wants his movement to continue to influence the party through the convention process.
The Sanders-supporting plaintiffs on the lawsuit are being represented by Greenwich Village District Leader Arthur Schwartz and a Queens law firm, Cohen & Green. Among the plaintiffs is Penny Mintz, a Schwartz ally running for Democratic State Committee in the Village versus incumbent Rachel Lavine.
“Bernie Sanders himself isn’t a plaintiff but people from his delegate slate are,” Schwartz explained of the suit. “New York is the only state in the whole United States that called off its presidential primary.”
Due to coronavirus, New York — the pandemic’s U.S. epicenter — has already pushed its presidential primary back from April to June. But the primary simply could be postponed again, Schwarz said, noting that Connecticut has moved its primary to August.
The Democratic National Convention is also slated for August, though it’s unclear if it will still be held in Milwaukee or virtually.
As it stands now, New Yorkers still will be able to vote in other state and federal primary races on June 23 — just not for president. For example, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler is facing a challenge from five candidates, including Lindsey Boylan, while Carolyn Maloney has three opponents, including Suraj Patel and Lauren Ashcraft.
Douglas Kellner, a Board of Elections commissioner, in justifying the decision to cancel New York’s presidential primary, called the election basically “moot.”
Speaking to the New York Times, Kellner said, “What the Sanders campaign wanted is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous.”
The lawsuit by Yang and the Sanders delegates names Kellner as a defendant, along with fellow Elections commissioner Andrew Spano.
However, Governor Cuomo had already issued an executive order saying every New York voter should be sent an application for an absentee ballot — so that voters would not have to potentially risk their health by voting at the polls. To get an absentee ballot, all people have to do is sign the form and send it in.
“Every union that I’ve represented pretty much does their election by mail and there’s never been a problem,” noted Schwartz, who is a top New York City union lawyer.
As he explained it, absentee ballots must be postmarked by the day of the election and received within several days of the election. He noted that his mother, who is disabled and always votes by absentee, already has received a ballot.
If the presidential primary is reinstated in New York, Schwartz predicted that some candidates — unlike Sanders — would want to remove their names from the ballot, such as Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg.
Schwartz was Sanders’s New York campaign counsel in 2016, but for this election Sanders used the same campaign lawyer for every state.
Four years ago, Sanders got 42 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 58 percent in New York’s Democratic presidential primary.