Despite announcing the end of his presidential candidacy and endorsing Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had hoped to keep his name on ballots and influence the Democratic Party’s convention. On April 25, the self-declared socialist’s campaign asked the New York Board of Elections (BOE) to keep him in the running. On April 26, the board killed the Democratic Party’s presidential primary. Bernie got his answer: the boot – and his supporters definitely felt the sting.
Why deny the Sanders campaign that request and cancel the primary? Was it really about slowing the spread of COVID-19, or did it have more to do with stopping the senator from having any say in the party rules and platform at the convention? What does this mean for the progressive wing of the Democrats? This move answers one question and raises many more – as well as the ire and outrage of Sanders supporters nationwide.
The Board of Elections canceled the primary by removing Sanders from the ballot. Under New York law, if a primary is uncontested, no election is held. Seems on the level, right? But wait, you might say, didn’t the senator ask not to be pulled from the race? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an appropriations bill on April 13 – a mere five days after Sanders suspended his campaign. Included in that new law is the authority for the Elections Board to remove candidates once their campaigns are suspended. Perhaps there were no ulterior motives here, but the timing sure is convenient for anyone who might want to be rid of a certain troublesome socialist.
So what happens to those 274 primary-dependent delegates from New York now that there’s no primary? Sanders had a good shot at winning quite a few of them, but that’s no longer an option. Biden is clearly the presumptive nominee – so long as the party doesn’t pull the old switcheroo, as Liberty Nation’s Joe Schaeffer suspects they might – but selecting the front man (or woman) isn’t all that’s handled at the convention. Party rules and the platform are hammered out as well, and any candidate who has delegates present gets at least some say in that formative process. It’s unclear at the moment how the selection process will go, but a smart gambler wouldn’t have anything riding on the Vermonter.
“Any substantive change to a state’s first determining step in allocating delegates like this one will need to be reviewed by the DNC’s Rules and By-Laws Committee,” Democratic National Committee spokesman David Bergstein declared. “Once the state party submits an updated selection plan on how they plan on allocating delegates, the committee will look at that plan and make a determination.”
Given the DNC’s history in this area and the fact that Biden is the establishment’s golden boy right now, it’s probably safe to assume this means the committee will approve any plan that works in the former vice president’s favor.
As one might expect, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was aghast. “It is completely wrong for the BOE to cancel New York’s Presidential Primary,” she tweeted. “This decision is not informed by public health: the state is still holding elections for every other seat that day, & so far the only way your ballot will be 100% counted in NY is to vote in person!”
She may have a point about the motives – though fewer people at the polls does mean fewer chances of spreading COVID-19 – but that last bit doesn’t pass the sniff test. Like most Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez has in the past supported voting by mail – as has the governor. He said a week earlier that the state of New York was sending absentee ballot applications with paid postage to every registered voter, so they didn’t have to risk exposure at the polls in June.
Her concern seems less tied to the injustice to Bernie and more to the threat to her seat – otherwise, how would absentee vs. in-person voting be relevant? The congresswoman is up for re-election and faces a serious primary threat. She knows that voter turnout is better during presidential elections and that many of the progressives she was counting on to stay in office were voting only because of Bernie. With Sanders out, they might lose interest and skip the primary entirely – abandoning Ocasio-Cortez to whatever electoral fate awaits.
AOC’s latest complaint isn’t all that smells fishy. “Today’s decision by the State of New York Board of Elections is an outrage, a blow to American democracy, and must be overturned by DNC,” said Sanders campaign adviser Jeff Weaver. “Just last week Vice President Biden warned the American people that President Trump could use the current crisis as an excuse to postpone the November election. Well, he now has a precedent thanks to New York state.” As suspicious as the cancellation is, this is the standard scare fare we’ve come to expect from Democrats. A general federal election being postponed or canceled and the state killing a primary are beasts of different natures. One is unconstitutional, and the other is, well, really not uncommon.
Though this is a first for the New York Democratic Party, it isn’t rare for Democrats and Republicans in other states to skip the primary process if there isn’t a challenger. What’s new about this situation is the way New York went about eliminating the competition. Michael Seymour, a lawyer for the Sanders campaign, argued that since the law changed after Bernie suspended his campaign – and since he did so under the assumption that he would remain on the ballot and continue to draw delegates to influence the party convention – the new law shouldn’t apply. But what happened to Bernie follows an older, more universal human law that the progressives seem to have missed: You can’t have it both ways.
Read more from James Fite.
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