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Sanders supporters rail at New York over cancellation of presidential primary

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders endorses former Vice President Joe Biden in a livestream on April 13.
(Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders supporters blasted New York election officials Monday after they canceled the state’s Democratic presidential primary in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, costing the former candidate delegates he’d counted on to help influence the party’s platform.

The discontent threatens to alienate the young liberal faction of the party that backed the Vermont senator’s presidential bids in 2016 and 2020 — a group key to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s effort to win the White House in November.

And it comes at the same time that states that have already voted, notably California, are moving to pare Sanders’ delegate haul based on Democratic National Committee rules — unless his campaign and that of Biden reach an agreement in negotiations that are underway.

“Any Democratic Party attempt to strip Sen. Sanders of the delegates he has been awarded or the opportunity to win additional delegates hurts their credibility with core elements of the Democratic base that are essential to defeating Donald Trump,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, a progressive political action committee. “There’s a real risk for the long-term credibility in the eyes of the next generation if it’s felt like they’re just trying to push Sanders off for the sake of convenience or expediency.”

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When the Vermont senator announced that he was suspending his presidential bid and endorsing Biden this month, he said he planned to remain on ballots to keep collecting delegates so he could sway the party platform on issues such as “Medicare for all,” free college and climate change.

In recent days, the Sanders campaign and thousands of his supporters urged New York officials to continue with the presidential portion of the primary, already postponed to June 23. But election board officials cited the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 22,000 in the state, in their decision to cancel.

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Jurisdictions with other races on the ballot will still hold elections. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that the state was sending vote-by-mail applications to all registered voters.

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“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,” Democratic state election board co-chair Douglas Kellner said in a virtual meeting, according to NY1.

Jeff Weaver, a senior advisor to the Sanders campaign, called the election board’s decision “an outrage, a blow to American democracy” and said the state should lose all of its delegates at the Democratic National Convention if it does not reverse course.

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“Just last week, Vice President Biden warned the American people that President Trump could use the current crisis as an excuse to postpone the November election. Well, he now has a precedent thanks to New York state,” Weaver said in a statement. (The 20th Amendment says that if the presidential election is not held, rules of succession kick in, making that scenario unlikely.)

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The Democratic National Committee would ultimately decide whether to seat the New York delegation at its August convention. The Biden campaign did not respond to questions about the New York decision.

The New York Democratic Party plans to work with the Biden and Sanders campaigns as it decides how to handle delegates, chairman Jay Jacobs said. “I would like to see it be a fair allocation of delegates so that the Sanders supporters are represented in that delegation,” Jacobs said, according to the Associated Press. “To what degree and what number, I don’t know.”

In California, Sanders won the state’s primary when it was held in March, with 225 delegates to Biden’s 172, a mix of district-level, statewide and superdelegates. (Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would get 11 and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg would get seven district-level delegates.)

But under a Democratic National Committee rule, if a state has an election but statewide and superdelegates are not selected before a candidate withdraws, his or her statewide and superdelegates are reapportioned to candidates still in the race. That would cost Sanders scores of delegates.

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The U.S. Census Bureau wants more time to wrap up the count because of the coronavirus, and that could delay drawing new legislative districts.

In recent days, Sanders’ supporters have called on California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks and Gov. Gavin Newsom — the public face of the party as the highest elected statewide Democrat — to give Sanders the delegates he earned during the state’s primary.

“Stripping him of his delegates is an affront to the primary process and the policies he is fighting for,” Rep. Ro Khanna of Silicon Valley tweeted Sunday.

Hicks said the state party is following DNC rules and that he is hopeful that the Biden and Sanders campaigns can reach a compromise as has happened in prior campaigns.

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“Sanders won the state and there’s a belief that CDP is taking delegates from Sanders and that simply is not the case,” Hicks said. “My hope is that the two campaigns and the DNC come together to address this issue so we can in fact move forward to the job we have in November.”

The Sanders campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this matter. The Biden campaign said it is working to reach an agreement with the Sanders camp.

“We feel strongly that it is in the best interest of the party to ensure that the Sanders campaign receives statewide delegates to reflect the work that they have done to contribute to the movement that will beat Donald Trump this fall,” said a Biden official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


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