As one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to reinstate the New York presidential primary, I want to respond to the letter from the leaders of the Southampton Democratic Committee about that primary [“Safety First,” Letters, May 7].
Like the writers of the letter, I’m deeply concerned about safe elections. When it became clear in March that COVID-19 would make it dangerous to go to the polls, many of us urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to give all voters access to absentee ballots and delay the April 28 presidential primary.
Although the governor didn’t act swiftly enough, he eventually combined the presidential primary with the June 23 congressional primaries, and committed to sending absentee ballot applications to every voter. I expected the Board of Elections to follow the example of other states and use the extra time to prepare for safer elections.
What I didn’t expect was language to be inserted in the state’s April budget stipulating that presidential candidates who suspend their campaigns, as Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang have, may be removed from the ballot. Two BOE commissioners used that language as the basis for stripping candidates from the ballot and canceling the presidential primary — the only state in the country to do so.
For decades, state law has ensured that candidates who meet demanding access requirements are guaranteed a place on the ballot. There has never been any provision for removing a candidate who merely suspends a campaign. The word “suspend” in this context means what it appears to mean: provisionally pausing campaign activity. The state is now asking for a radical new interpretation of that term.
The state is also creating a dangerous precedent, allowing unelected bureaucrats to determine who can remain on a ballot, and which elections are deemed necessary. In fact, one of the commissioners referred to the presidential primary as a “beauty contest.”
Aside from the crucial role delegates play on the Democratic Party’s Platform and Rules committees, allowing voters to state their preference in a primary is far from a beauty contest. When the Southern District Court ordered the primary reinstated, the judge asserted that the actions of the commissioners violated voters’ First and 14th amendment rights — not just the right to vote but the right to make our voices heard, the cornerstone of democracy.
If the state feels it has inadequate time to prepare for safe elections, a better remedy would be to postpone all primaries. But as we prepare for November, with a president who looks for any excuse to undermine our laws, we mustn’t sacrifice democracy, even to the imperatives of a pandemic.
If New York pursues this unprecedented action, I fear that is precisely what we will do.
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One fine body…