Top row from left, Republicans who are on the ballot...

Top row from left, Republicans who are on the ballot in Tuesday's New York presidential primaries: Donald Trump; Chris Christie; Nikki Haley; Vivek Ramaswamy. Bottom row from left, Democrats who are on the ballot: Joe Biden; Dean Phillips; Marianne Williamson. Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON — With the results of Tuesday’s presidential primary a foregone conclusion — occurring three weeks after Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump clinched their party nominations — party leaders and election officials are not expecting a huge turnout, but they are bracing for potential protest votes.

A coalition of liberal groups recently launched a campaign urging Democrats to cast a blank vote to protest Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, and an anti-Trump political group has launched a national campaign urging Republicans to vote against Trump.

“There's always been some protest vote,” said Jay Jacobs, chairman of the state and Nassau Democratic committees. “Only [Russian President Vladimir] Putin gets away with no protests. I mean, it doesn't work like that in a democracy.”

New York Republican Committee spokesman David Laska said the state party isn’t giving much thought to the prospect of anti-Trump voters selecting former primary candidates still on the ballot. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy all remain on the New York ballot despite having left the race.

“There are folks who didn't support President Trump. Certainly it’s their right to come out and cast their vote, but this is over and we're turning our attention to the general,” Laska said.

Focus on November

Neither state party is doing much to push voters to the primary polls, with both saying they’d rather focus resources on the November general election.

Biden and Trump are locked in a statistical dead heat in most national polls, with Trump gaining ground on Biden. Trump edged Biden by an average of 1.6 percentage points in national polls conducted between March 7 and March 24, according to the poll tracking site RealClear Politics.

“We don't see this as a nail biter,” Jacobs said of the New York primaries. “So I would say that emails are going out, we're doing it in a more low-key fashion, and we're not expecting a huge turnout.”

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Democratic self-help author Marianne Williamson will appear on the ballot despite suspension of their long-shot campaigns weeks ago.

Laska said given Trump’s presumptive nominee status, the state committee is mainly focused on the general election.

“We're going to do everything we can to help Donald Trump get back into the White House. That's our focus right now,” Laska said.

Early voting for the primary kicked off March 23 and ended Saturday at 6 p.m., but turnout has been light, according to county election officials.

After polls closed Saturday in Nassau, for instance, a total of only 3,686 Democrats and 2,556 Republicans had voted early — or just under 1% of eligible voters, according to the county Board of Elections.

Suffolk's Board of Elections did not return a request for total early voting data but did provide information through Tuesday, four days into early voting: 1,113 Democrats and 1,032 Republicans voted at early voting locations. 

As of Feb. 27, there were 415,211 registered Democrats and 321,171 Republicans in Nassau, or a total of 736,382, according to the state Board of Elections. In Suffolk, there were 376,665 Democrats and 345,362 Republicans, for a total of 722,027.

Nassau County is expected to spend $2.5 million to conduct the election, said James Scheuerman, the Democratic Commissioner for the county election board. In Suffolk, the cost is expected to run from $2.5 million to $3 million, according to a statement from the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

Scheuerman said despite both candidates having clinched their nominations, the primary election had to continue as planned, in part because Democrats also are voting for delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

“The delegates do have to be elected. It's the law,” Scheuerman said. “It just stinks that we have to roll out the red carpet, but you know, it keeps us on our toes here with the board of elections. We were always ready to go.”

Prospect of protest votes

Biden has had to contend with grassroots protests in other states urging Democrats to vote against him or leave their ballots blank in objection of the president’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

In New York, a coalition of liberal groups, including several chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and pro-Palestinian organizations, have launched a “Leave It Blank NY” campaign to urge Biden to change course and push for a cease-fire.

The New York effort seeks to replicate similar campaigns in other states, where 4.5% to 20% of voters in Democratic primaries have cast protest votes, including 13% in Michigan and 20% in Minnesota.

“We need the president to step up and to show the kind of leadership that the American public wants and push for a cease-fire,” said Brittany Ramos DeBarros, an organizer of Leave It Blank NY.

DeBarros argued any percentage of blank votes in the New York primary above the usual 1% in the state's elections will show the effects of the campaign. 

“Every person who decides to go vote and cast a blank ballot is a victory,” she said.

The New York State Board of Elections does not plan to report the number of blank ballots when it announces the presidential primary and Democratic convention delegate results on election night, board spokeswoman Kathleen McGrath told Newsday. 

McGrath said the state Board of Elections will disclose the number of blank votes along with final election results at a meeting after counties canvass, certify and report their votes to the state board. Counties must do that within 13 days after Election Day.

The board has not set a date for that meeting, McGrath said.

Republican Voters Against Trump, a coalition funded by the political action committee Republican Accountability PAC, recently launched a $50 million campaign aimed at airing anti-Trump ads in battleground states.

While the group is not airing ads in New York, the group expects anti-Trump Republicans to continue using primary contests to voice their discontent with the nominee. Wisconsin, Connecticut and Rhode Island also hold presidential primaries Tuesday.

“Donald Trump is an incredibly strong primary candidate, and he's an incredibly weak general election candidate because there's Republican voters who have been Republicans all their life that look at Donald Trump and see he's somebody who's categorically unfit to be president again,” John Conway, Republican Voters Against Trump's director of strategy, told Newsday.

Conway noted Nikki Haley received more than 110,000 votes in the March 19 Arizona primary despite her exit from the race March 6. Trump won the state with 489,578 votes, or 78.8%, but Arizona is a battleground state that Biden won by about only 10,000 votes in 2020. Haley's primary votes this year reflect the possibility that Trump could lose the state again, Conway said.

“These voters know that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee,” Conway said. “They know that Nikki Haley has suspended her campaign, but they're using these primaries as an opportunity to vote against Trump because they see him as a dangerous threat to our democracy.”

On March 22, the day before the start of early voting in the New York primary, Suffolk Republican chairman Jesse Garcia and Nassau GOP chairman Joe Cairo jointly endorsed Trump.

Garcia told Newsday he believed voter enthusiasm was high among Republicans. He said local GOP committee members who are collecting petition signatures to help state and congressional candidates get on the June primary ballot routinely get questions from voters seeking to confirm the presidential primary vote still would take place.

“Everyone is asking and double-checking — ‘We still go out and vote for Trump on April 2, right?’” Garcia said. “They're telling this to my committee people at the door; they’re looking forward to casting their vote.”

Gerald Benjamin, a retired distinguished political science professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, said there likely “won’t be a great turnout” Tuesday compared with past competitive primaries, such as in 2016 when Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders crisscrossed the state and Trump still was vying for the GOP nomination with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Nonetheless, Benjamin said Tuesday’s presidential primary is important.

“Participation is valued in a democracy,” Benjamin told Newsday. “Participation is a hedge against anti-democratic behavior going forward.”

Presidential primary ballot

Following are the names of candidates on the ballot for New York's presidential primaries on Tuesday:

Democrats

Joe Biden

Marianne Williamson

Dean Phillips (campaign suspended)

Republicans

Donald Trump

Nikki Haley (campaign suspended)

Chris Christie (campaign suspended)

Vivek Ramaswamy (campaign suspended)

Adventure park sentencing … Trump trial … Harlem Hotel Credit: Newsday

Rex Heuermann back in court today ... Nursing home monitor appointed ... Greenport bulkhead ... More kids missing school

Adventure park sentencing … Trump trial … Harlem Hotel Credit: Newsday

Rex Heuermann back in court today ... Nursing home monitor appointed ... Greenport bulkhead ... More kids missing school

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