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With New York Primary Back On, Voters Will Receive Absentee Ballots

Bernie Sanders at Vermont rally 3-1-16
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Bernie Sanders at Vermont rally 3-1-16

New York’s Democratic presidential primary is back on, now that a judge has thrown out a decision by the state Board of Elections to cancel the election. The board acted after Bernie Sanders dropped out, leaving Joe Biden as the only candidate on the ballot. 

A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that canceling the presidential primary is unconstitutional. Even though the other candidates, including Sanders, have dropped out of the race, their delegates are still on the ballot.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres wrote that voters would be deprived of the opportunity to vote for delegates who “share their views” and for the delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention and help “shape the course of events.”

The state’s Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders for president, praised the decision. Executive director Sochie Nnaemeka, speaking via Skype, says Sanders delegates, if they win on June 23, hope to influence the Democratic Party’s direction by pressing for issues like combatting climate change, relieving student debt, and pressing for Medicare for All.

“We see race not just about the candidates, but about the ideas and the vision and the values that they are putting forward,” Nnaemeka said.

Nnaemeka says progressive Democrats also worried that canceling the presidential primary would depress turn out for down-ballot races, which were still to be in June. There are Democratic primary challenges in 20 congressional districts and in several state Senate and Assembly districts.

Governor Andrew Cuomo already issued an executive order to send applications for absentee ballots for all eligible voters in the congressional, state and primary races. Now, he says, the applications, which come with the return postage paid, will be sent to all democratic voters in the state eligible to vote in the presidential primary.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have people go standing on line to vote,” Cuomo said. “You shouldn’t say to a person ‘If you want to exercise your civic duty, you have to endanger your public health and possibly endanger others.’”

The last significant in-person election held in the U.S. was the Wisconsin primary on April 7th. 52 people who voted contracted COVID-19 afterward.

There will likely still be polling places open on June 23, but Cuomo is strongly encouraging voters to use the mail-in option instead.

The governor says he has not heard any concerns from local boards of elections about handling the expected increased volume of absentee ballots.  

The governor’s Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa says because it’s anticipated that most of the ballots will be sent by mail, many of the races might not be called on Election Night.

“We want to make sure that the counting process is done right, and it’s thorough and that people continue to have confidence and faith in democracy,” DeRosa said. “That may mean that some elections are called a couple of days afterwards.”

DeRosa says the state and elections officials are also talking with the National Guard about potentially stepping in to help with in-person voting if there are not enough volunteers at polling sites, or it’s considered unsafe for the volunteers, many of whom are elderly, to be there.

Cuomo says it’s possible that the November presidential election might also be conducted mainly through mail-in voting, if the coronavirus has not receded by then. 

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