The New York presidential primary on April 28 looms large in the contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as they seek the Democratic nomination.
But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic threatens to mar voter turnout. Whether ballots are cast early or on Primary Day, voters would need to turn out at their polling place and interact with poll workers before casting their choice. The easy person-to-person spread of coronavirus may discourage many voters from participating.
State Attorney General Letitia James, however, believes the election should go without voters needing to leave their homes.
On Sunday, she called upon Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign an executive order that would allow the New York State Board of Elections to send all registered primary voters absentee ballots that they can fill out and send back by mail.
Currently, voters need to meet specific criteria in order to be eligible for an absentee ballot, such as a scheduled trip outside of New York, temporary or permanent disability, or duties related to primary care of individuals who are disabled.
Cuomo’s state of emergency declaration of March 7 gives the state the authority to temporarily suspend certain voting laws for 30 days. James wants the governor to issue a second executive order that would suspend certain election laws that restrict absentee ballot voting.
“Voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health and the right to cast a ballot,” James said. “If we act now, we have more than a month before the presidential primary and numerous special elections across our state to take action and ensure every eligible New York voter receives an absentee ballot. Let’s make it easier for every voter to cast their vote without spreading the coronavirus and jeopardizing public health. Democracy should not be suspended if there is a safe alternative.”
Should James get her wish, New York state would effectively have a “vote-by-mail” system of voting for the April 28 primary — which, in addition to the Biden-Sanders contest, also has a number of special elections to fill legislative seats.
Every registered voter would receive an absentee ballot to fill in and send back before the April 28 primary date. The Democratic primary is open only to registered Democratic voters, while special elections are open to all registered voters.
In the Democratic presidential race, 274 pledged delegates are up for grabs. Through March 22, according to The New York Times, Biden has 1,201 delegates to Sanders’ 896. A presidential candidate must win 1,991 delegates to secure the party’s nomination.