New York’s Democratic presidential primary June 23 reinstated after Yang, Sanders sue; state appeals

Joseph Spector

Primary will cost the county approximately $42,000.

The Democratic presidential primary in New York is back on.

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled late Tuesday that New York must hold the primary on June 23, contending that canceling it would be unconstitutional and take away the ability of the candidates to receive delegates for the party’s convention in August.

Removing the candidates from the ballot and “canceling the presidential primary denied them the chance to run, and denied voters the right to cast ballots for their candidate and their political beliefs,” U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres ruled.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, who argued in a lawsuit April 28 that it was illegal for New York to cancel the primary. “Yes—the people of New York will be able to vote in the Democratic presidential primary,” Yang wrote on Twitter.

John Conklin, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections, declined comment on the ruling or whether the state would appeal, saying it was under review by the board’s attorneys.

When asked about the ruling on CNN by his younger brother, the anchor Chris Cuomo, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: “Yes, right now by a judge’s determination” the primary is back on. But Cuomo said the decision could be appealed, and Wednesday afternoon May 6, New York did file an appeal.

Yates County Board of Elections Commissioners Robert Brechko and Rob Schwarting made a joint statement, saying, “The decision to suspend the Presidential Primary was in accordance with the State Legislature’s law, which was signed by the governor several weeks ago. An appeal was filed to challenge that act, and it prevailed late on Tuesday the 5th. The State AG is preparing an appeal of that decision, a common practice, and a decision on that appeal will probably be rendered in a week to ten days. Until then, all that the YCBOE can do is reopen the primary planning process to include notifying the owners of our various polling sites, alert the poll inspectors and wait. Should the primary be held it will cost the county approximately $42,000, and expense that we had hoped to avoid. Further, because of various Executive Orders by the Governor, we will have to prepare a onetime, special absentee balloting procedure as a means to reduce the number of voters that must come out to one of the polling sites or to the nine days of early voting in the County Office Building. Some of this unusual effort was preplanned in this office, and now it is a matter of taking the process to the next step and halting as we wait for the final court decision. Obviously, if there is to be a Democratic Party Presidential Primary, the Board will have to acquire sanitizing supplies to prepare the polling sites, contract cleaning crews, purchase personal protective equipment for the poll workers and sanitizing solutions for the voter, replace any elderly poll worker that cannot work under these circumstances and modify the layout of all polling sites so that safe separation distances can be maintained. While all of this will amount to a substantial new cost, we are fortunate to have been provided a federal grant, which was given to pay for most of the costs to minimize the impact of the Coronavirus on Federal Elections. If the court case decision had not restarted the Federal Presidential Primary, Yates County would have had only a small party primary for the Serve America Movement (SAM) Party. Since there are no registered SAM Party voters registered in Yates County, it would have been a small and relatively inexpensive primary as required by State Election Law.”

The state’s Democratic election commissioners voted last week to remove 10 presidential candidates from the ballot except Joe Biden, the only actively campaigning candidate and presumptive nominee. The vote came after a new measure in state law that allows the board to remove candidates from the ballot if a candidate publicly suspends his or her campaign.

Primaries for state and federal elections were still being held, but the commissioners said it was best to end the presidential primary due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But the judge ruled the Democratic presidential primary is required for a variety of reasons, including delegates selected by the primary “to compete for the chance to become Convention delegates.” 

“That Delegate Plaintiffs’ rights are tied to those of Yang and other presidential candidates does not diminish Delegate Plaintiffs’ importance, or their standing to sue when their ability to run—which rises and falls on their presidential candidates’ viability— is threatened,” Torres ruled.

The Working Families Party, which supported Sanders, praised the decision.

“The BOE should not respond to our public health crisis by canceling elections—but instead by ensuring all New York voters have a safe and effective means to vote,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, the party’s executive director.

“This decision is a victory for all voters and for the progressive movement.”