ALBANY – A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that New York must host its Democratic presidential primary on June 23.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision earlier this month that canceling the primary would be unconstitutional and deprive New Yorkers of their right to vote. The state’s Board of Elections had called off the contest in late April, citing public health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic – a move that drew swift backlash from supporters of former presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders, who eventually filed the lawsuit seeking to reinstate the election.
“Thrilled that democracy has prevailed for the voters of New York!” Yang, also a plaintiff in the suit, tweeted.
The Board of Elections, after appealing the first decision, will not try to bring the case to the Supreme Court, the board’s Democratic co-chair Doug Kellner said on Tuesday.
“There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done at the Board of Elections in order to manage the primary election, and we’re going to focus our attention on doing just that,” he said in an interview.
Going forward, the board will focus on encouraging mail-in voting as much as possible to reduce potential crowds at the polls, he said.
“We’re hoping that the overwhelming majority of voters will vote by absentee ballot, but the boards are also concentrating on keeping early voting sites and taking the extraordinary measures necessary in order to staff those sites in a safe manner and to recruit a sufficient number of poll workers for election day voting,” Kellner said.
The presidential primary will now accompany the state and congressional primaries that had already been scheduled to continue that day. After seeing lines of voters and mass gatherings on election days in other states, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order in late April mandating that every New Yorker would receive a postage-paid absentee ballot application in the mail.
New York Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, who had supported the decision to cancel the primary, said he is “disappointed, but we’re going to comply with the court’s decision.”
“I hope that no one of those dire predictions come true,” he said, citing concerns that older poll workers may fall ill.
But critics of the decision – and two federal courts – asserted that the state Board of Elections has enough time to set up an election safely. They said the decision to call off the primary infringed on voters’ First Amendment rights and stripped them of the ability to choose delegates to send to the Democratic National Convention in August.
The delegates, supporters argued, do not serve at this point to nominate their preferred candidate; instead, they help shape the party platform. Sanders’ backers asserted that choosing delegates could help shift the Democratic Party’s platform further to the left, helping rally support for ideas like Medicare for All or strong climate action.
“In moments of crisis, more than ever, working families should not be deprived of the right to vote for a better future,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, the director of the New York Working Families Party. “We support the court’s decision to protect free and fair elections and ensure all voters have a right to be heard.”