WASHINGTON – The New York State Board of Elections on Monday canceled the June 23 Democratic presidential primary – a move that could suppress Democratic turnout in the special election in New York's 27th Congressional District that same day.
The move also risks angering supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who suspended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this month but whose supporters wanted to keep him on the ballot anyway.
“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,” the board's Democratic co-chairman, Douglas A. Kellner, told The New York Times.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, at his daily briefing, said he wasn't going to "second guess" the board's decision, which came less than a month after the governor issued an executive order allowing New York Democrats to vote absentee in the primary.
The decision to cancel the primary could have major implications locally and nationally.
Locally, the move could affect the special election to replace former Rep. Chris Collins, who resigned in October upon pleading guilty to felony insider trading charges.
Republicans hold an enrollment advantage in the 27th District, but Democratic insiders said having the Democratic primary on the same day as the special election could boost the chances of their candidate, former Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray, over the Republican candidate, State Sen. Chris Jacobs.
But now the Democratic primary won't happen. Meanwhile, Republicans will go to the polls to vote both in the special congressional election between Jacobs and McMurray and in a primary for the Republican line on the fall ballot, which pits Jacobs against Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. and former Darien Town Justice Beth A. Parlato.
McMurray criticized the cancellation of the primary.
"I don't understand the reason why they would do it," he said. "I think a lot of people wanted their voice to be heard in New York State. I think it's always good to let people have their voice be heard."
At the same time, McMurray said he didn't know how the primary's cancellation will affect his chances. Noting that his campaign has 15 times more individual donors than Jacobs – who is self-funding and relying on larger donations – McMurray said he has the momentum.
"But I don't think anyone can say what this means for June 23," McMurray said of the cancellation of the primary. "I mean, we don't even know what June 23 will look like yet, really, so any speculation I would do on the impact this has on June 23 is just that: speculation."
Sanders supporters hoped the primary would take place so that the progressive candidate could continue to amass delegates, thereby influencing his leverage over the Democratic platform at the August Democratic convention where former Vice President Joe Biden is on track to grab the Democratic nomination.
Sanders needs to get 25% of the delegates to be able to influence the party platform, and delegates from the New York primary would have made it easier for him to reach that threshold, said Brian Nowak, a Cheektowaga Town Board member and longtime Sanders supporter.
"It's disappointing," Nowak said. "The New York State Democratic Party sees no problem in holding the special congressional election, the state races and all these other things, but for some reason can't do the presidential contests on the same day."
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner, who is on the state Board of Elections, said the board had legitimate reasons to cancel the primary. He noted that in the 27th District, voters would have had to vote twice, on separate ballots for the congressional race and the primary. Canceling the primary eliminates a confusing situation for voters, he said.
As for complaints from Sanders supporters, Zellner said that if Sanders wanted to continue to collect delegates, "I guess he shouldn't have dropped out of the race."