Virus leads New York to nix Democratic presidential primary

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, greet each other before they participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York canceled its 2020 Democratic presidential primary election because of the coronavirus pandemic, infuriating former candidate Bernie Sanders' campaign and his supporters. They called Monday's decision a strike against democracy.

The Democratic members of the state Board of Elections voted to nix the primary. New York will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on June 23.

Commissioner Andrew Spano said he worried about potentially forcing voters and poll workers to choose between their democratic duty and their health. While there will still be other offices on the ballot, Spano reasoned it made sense to give voters an opportunity to choose in contested races but not to “have anyone on the ballot just for the purposes of issues at a convention.”

The results of the upcoming primary were largely symbolic since Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, had already dropped out of the race, making Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee. Still, the cancellation comes at a pivotal time for the former vice president, who is working to coalesce progressives' support behind him — and could find those efforts complicated.

Sanders' campaign had asked the commissioners not to cancel the primary, noting that it helped select delegates who help determine the party’s platform and rules.

“Today’s decision by the State of New York Board of Elections is an outrage, a blow to American democracy," Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement, arguing the Democratic National Committee “must” overturn it.

The move sets up a potential showdown with the national party and Sanders over the New York delegation to Democrats’ summer convention, scheduled for the week of Aug. 17 in Milwaukee.

Sanders has endorsed Biden, but the two camps are in negotiations over how to distribute convention delegates. Sanders has said he wants his supporters to continue voting for him in upcoming primaries, both for them to have their say and to maximize his influence on the party platform and rules.