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NY's presidential primary voters to receive absentee ballot form

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 had 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.”   Democratic members of the state's Board of Elections have filed an appeal of a federal judge's reinstatement of the New York presidential primary. 

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

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

Nnaemeka said progressive Democrats also worry that canceling the presidential primary would depress turnout for downballot races, which are still set for June. There are Democratic primary challenges in 20 congressional districts and in several state Senate and Assembly districts.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo already issued an executive order to send applications for absentee ballots for all eligible voters in the congressional and state primary races. Now, he said, the applications, which come with the return postage paid, will be sent to all Democratic voters in the state who are 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 7. Fifty-two people who voted contracted COVID-19 afterward.  

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

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

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, said because it’s anticipated that most of the ballots will be sent by mail, many of the races might not be called on the night of the election.  

“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 afterward.”  

DeRosa said 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 if it’s considered unsafe for the volunteers, many of whom are elderly, to be there. 

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

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.