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Why NY Dems must reinstate the presidential primary 

In this combination of file photos, former Vice

In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, left, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

ALBANY — Unlike Republicans, Democrats in New York State have been blocked from canceling their presidential primary in part because they have a raft of candidates who have qualified for the ballot, a federal judge ruled.

Democratic members of the state Board of Elections canceled the party's June 23 presidential primary for health and practical reasons. Besides trying to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said there wasn’t a real contest because former Vice President Joe Biden was the only one still running and all others had suspended their campaigns.

To a degree, the Democrats were following the lead of New York Republicans, who in March canceled their primary.

But, in fact, the parties faced different circumstances and that’s a big part of why U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres on Tuesday ordered Democrats to reinstate their primary, a ruling Democratic election officials said they are appealing.

On the Republican side, no challenger gathered enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot and take on President Donald Trump. After former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld failed to meet the petition requirements, the GOP scrapped the vote.

On the Democratic side, 11 candidates had qualified for the ballot along with delegates for each. All but Biden have stopped campaigning and Democratic election commissioners said there was no point continuing the contest, especially amid the pandemic.

But one of those candidates, Andrew Yang, along with supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others, sued the state elections board to restore the primary, saying voters still had a right to cast a ballot for a candidate and delegates that might influence the party’s platform.

Torres agreed, saying canceling would be unconstitutional.

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The board action “deprived Democratic voters of the opportunity to elect delegates who could push their point of view in that forum," Torres wrote. “The loss of these First Amendment rights is a heavy hardship."

That Democrats had candidates qualified for the New York ballot and Republicans didn’t was a big reason why the former must still go through with the primary, said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at the SUNY New Paltz. Additionally, no Democrat had asked to be removed from the ballot.

“It’s a very close, technical point. But a very important one,” Benjamin said. “On the Republican side, there was no contest and state election law is very clear when there’s no contest.”

Benjamin said he believed it was the “right outcome” because “canceling elections is a bad thing to do.”

Cornell University Law School professor Kathleen Bergin noted the law giving the board the power to remove candidates who had suspended their campaigns was approved just weeks ago, on April 3, after the pandemic hit and after Yang had suspended his campaign but expected to remain on the ballot.

"It's almost like they applied the law retroactively," Bergin said, referring to the elections board.

Torres noted no other state has canceled its primary outright even amid the pandemic — Wisconsin had to reinstate its after a court ruling.

She also pointed out other elections are being held June 23 — congressional and state legislative primaries — and wondered why commissioners didn’t try to cancel those too if safety was the biggest concern.

Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic chairman, said it wasn’t up to the party to appeal Torres’ decision but rather Doug Kellner and Andrew Spano, the two Democratic commissioners on the state Board of Elections — who were appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, as was Jacobs.

Kellner confirmed Thursday the board has filed to appeal Torres' decision.

Jacobs said he supported cancellation: “When you have only one candidate running, you don’t need an election in a time of an emergency.”

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