New York Democratic Primary Canceled Because of COVID-19: What Are the Implications?

By Maddy Teka, Esq. on May 05, 2020 | Last updated on May 06, 2020

A federal judge in New York overruled the state’s electoral board decision not to conduct a Democratic primary in New York this year. The electoral board’s decision would have made New York first state to cancel their primaries amid fears over COVID-19.  

Originally, the primaries were scheduled to take place on April 28. But the state issued an executive order postponing it to June 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state of New York Board of Elections has decided to remove all candidates no longer seeking the presidency and cancel the Democratic primaries, thereby awarding former Vice President Joe Biden all the state's delegates.

This decision has faced opposition from previous candidates and their supporters who were planning to use the delegates to influence the party's platform at the convention in August.

Does the Law Allow the State to Remove Candidates?

The state of New York Board of elections relied on an executive order signed by Governor Cuomo when they decided to cancel the primaries originally scheduled to take place on June 23.

The executive order implies that the board has the power to remove from the ballot candidates who ended their presidential campaigns. It specifically states: “If a candidate announces that they are terminating or suspending their campaign . . . the state board of elections may determine. . . that the candidate is no longer eligible and omit said candidate from the ballot."

The board claimed that, in addition to the increased risk to both voters and poll workers, there is no purpose in holding a general election since there is only one contender.

As the board's elections commissioner put it: “Given the situation with the public health emergency that seems to exist now, [conducting the primaries with only one contender] seems to be unnecessary and frivolous."

Former Democratic candidate Andrew Yang and seven other New Yorkers filed a lawsuit claiming the decision is unconstitutional.

Is It Constitutional to Remove Candidates After They Suspend Their Campaigns?

With more than 24,000 deaths, New York is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. Canceling the primary may indeed help prevent the spread of the virus. But does it give the state the right to cancel the primary if there is only one candidate left? Here are three arguments against it.

1. The 14th Amendment and the Right of Citizens to Vote

The 14th Amendment of the Constitution gives Americans “equal protection of the laws." Those who oppose the board's decision may argue that the executive order is unconstitutional because it denies them their right to vote and be elected without compelling reasons.

They can argue that even though the pandemic is a real threat, the state has other alternatives to conduct the elections. These alternatives include absentee voting and holding elections through the mail.

2. The 14th Amendment Procedural Due Process Clause of the Constitution

The candidates can also argue that their constitutional rights have been violated without due process as other elections are scheduled to occur the same day, making the actions of the board fundamentally unfair.

3. Possible Implications for the General Election in November

There is a chance the November general election will be impacted, especially if COVID-19 remains a public health threat by that time. These implications could vary from conducting the entire election by mail to postponing the election date.

The lawsuit submitted by Andrew Yang claims the decision to cancel the primary creates a bad precedent. It further states that the president can use the same argument (i.e., that it is too dangerous to vote) to postpone the general elections in November.

New York District Court Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction

In an order that came out recently, a District Court judge agreed with allegations set forth by Andrew yang and eight other plaintiffs and ordered the board to reinstate the primaries. The judge stated cancellation of the primaries violates the plaintiffs’ and other candidates' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the Constitution.

According to a statement by a co-chair of the board to the New York Times, the board of elections is “reviewing the decision and preparing an appeal.”

How COVID-19 Has Affected Elections

COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of life, including shifting how national elections are conducted. As of now, 16 states have either postponed or canceled their primaries. Others have taken measures to conduct voting through the mail.

Alaska, Indiana, Maryland, and Delaware are among the states who postponed their primary election dates. Wisconsin, on the other hand, decided to go ahead with the elections after the Supreme Court blocked the governor's efforts to postpone the primaries.

We have yet to see how this pandemic will affect the general election in November.

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