New York

Foss: Wrong to cancel New York’s presidential primary

Joe Biden at Proctors in Schenectady in November 2017
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Joe Biden at Proctors in Schenectady in November 2017

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

It feels like a lifetime ago. 

But it was just late February when I surveyed the political landscape and made a bold prediction: New York’s Democratic presidential primary would matter. 

At the time, the primary was scheduled to take place today, and a whopping seven — seven! — candidates were still on the ballot. 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was considered the front runner, but former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was coming on strong, opening campaign offices in far-flung locales like downtown Albany and securing endorsements from local political heavyweights like Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. As for Joe Biden, his campaign scarcely merited a mention, as it appeared to be dead in the water. 

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“The Democratic field will certainly shrink before April,” I wrote, “but the fragmented nature of the race … means it will remain competitive for some time.”

This confident prediction turned out to be wrong.

Perhaps I should have foreseen how quickly Democratic voters would rally around a candidate, rendering New York’s late party primary mostly meaningless, but I didn’t. 

Nor did I anticipate that the state Board of Elections would cancel the Democratic primary.

Indeed, I don’t know how I could have anticipated it, given how unlikely it once seemed. 

Count me among those who are uncomfortable with this move, which sets a troubling precedent at a time when electoral integrity is already a big concern. 

You’d never know it from the BOE’s decision, but New Yorkers throughout the state will still be voting on June 23 in downballot congressional, state and local contests. 

Canceling the Democratic primary will almost certainly depress voter turnout, prompting some to wonder whether this is actually the Board of Elections’ goal. 

“Strong suspicion that the cancellation of the Dem primary, while it has the side effect of harming this bid to get Bernie delegates to the convention, is really about protecting threatened Dem incumbents challenged from the left by giving voters less reason to turn out,” the progressive journalist David Dayen speculated on Twitter. 

New York shouldn’t be canceling elections — it should be figuring out how to hold them safely. 

To some extent, the state has already done this. 

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring the state Board of Elections to mail every New Yorker an application for an absentee ballot for the June 23 primaries. Polls will still be open, but anyone who wants to can vote absentee. Similar arrangements could have been made for the Democratic presidential primary. 


Of course, the presidential primary is pretty much over, which is why the BOE opted to cancel it over the concerns of Sanders supporters. 

Sanders suspended his campaign earlier this month, but he had expressed a desire to remain on the ballot and his supporters hoped to win delegates and influence the party platform. 

The Democratic members of the BOE ultimately rejected their arguments, with co-chairman Douglas A. Kellner saying, “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.” 

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Is it really the BOE’s job to determine whether an election is unnecessary or frivolous? 

Or is that a determination that should be left to voters, who can vote, or not vote, as they see fit?

I’m for letting the voters decide.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

 

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