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Delegate race drives primary, now back on

The New York Democratic presidential primary is back on — at least for now — and since 10 of the 11 candidates have dropped out, delegates are now the focus.

The state is appealing a federal judge’s decision to insist New York continues with its June 23 primary election, which progressive Democrats say is key to shaping their party’s future. The state Board of Elections had canceled the primary in late April, using new power given to it in the state’s 2020 budget, citing the coronavirus pandemic as the reason. While other state elections are continuing using mail-in voting and absentee voting, New York’s Board of Elections said this primary wasn’t worth the money, since all candidates except Joe Biden had dropped out or suspended their campaigns.

However, candidates are not the only thing on the line in presidential primaries. Democratic voters also get the chance to vote for the delegates they will send to the Democratic National Convention to advocate for their regions and their policies. Delegates shape the party’s platform, rules and vision for the future. By eliminating 10 of the 11 candidates, the state kicked all delegates except Biden’s off the ballot, too.

A lawsuit filed by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, backed by former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and the New York Progressive Action Network, successfully argued in early May that the state’s decision was unconstitutional.

Joe Henderson of Saranac Lake is a Paul Smith’s College professor of environment and society, and a Sanders delegate candidate. He said it was “deeply depressing” when the election was canceled but that now that it’s back on, “It feels democratic.”

Still, the election is not guaranteed. State Attorney General Letitia James has filed an appeal to the latest decision, and the courts have yet to rule on that appeal.

Sue Abbott-Jones of Saranac Lake, who was a delegate for Sanders in 2016, said she is concerned that cancelling this primary will set a precedent for November.

“This sets a precedent to cancel elections,” Abbott-Jones said. “I worry for every one of us if this is canceled.”

She said wants registered Democrats to know it’s still important to vote, even if their candidate has suspended their campaign.

Delegates are on the ballot right next to the primary candidates, and they go though a similar petition process, gathering signatures and applying for the position.

Henderson said he has not heard talk in the Sanders campaign about un-suspending his candidacy and trying to beat Biden in the primary. He said the reason Sanders supporters want the election is to send their delegates.

Each congressional district can send six delegates, and this year there are 30 candidates in New York’s 21st District, which spans the North Country.

Each candidate can have up to six delegate candidates representing them, three male and three female. Voters choose six of these, and can vote for delegates who represent candidates other than the one they vote for in the primary.

On the ballot this election, there are six delegates for Pete Buttigieg, six for Joe Biden, six for Bernie Sanders, six for Elizabeth Warren and six for Andrew Yang. There are none representing Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, Michael Bennet or Deval Patrick.

What delegates do at the convention

Abbott-Jones said delegates go to the convention not just to represent a candidate but to represent their region and mostly to represent the issues they support.

She got voted into the conference in 2016, and as a self-described “political junkie” who had being a delegate on her bucket list, she said “it was heaven.”

She said the New York delegation was placed near the stage, and though the convention organizers have rules against homemade placards, going as far as searching for markers and sometimes kicking out violators, some of them were able to sneak some in.

Abbott-Jones said she has been involved in progressive politics since the Vietnam War, and had been following Sanders since he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, so it was a big deal when she got to meet him.

“I even got a hug,” Abbott-Jones said. “Now, that is politically incorrect.”

She also said delegates can get on committees and change the party’s rules for future elections. They did this in 2016, she said, when delegates advocated to limit superdelegates’ power in presidential nominee decisions. Superdelegates are party insiders who are not told how to vote by actual voters; they are unpledged and can vote however they feel, a rule that has plagued party outsiders and political radicals like Sanders.

Abbott-Jones said it was the advocacy of delegates in 2016 that led to Democratic party leaders limiting superdelegates to only voting the second round of voting in 2018.

She said she believes it was a dislike for outsiders’ progressives that led to the primary being canceled initially. She said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t like progressives and that Sanders — who is personally registered as an independent, not a Democrat — draws more ire.

“It’s a two-party system, and if you’re going to get anywhere, you’ve got to be one of the two parties,” she said.

She said she was asked to run again this year but wanted a younger person to step up and take the role. Henderson did.

Henderson said he hopes to represent a young people and a diverse population of people who don’t feel the party establishment is listening to them on issues like health care, student debt relief and climate change. He said he and many other progressives feel they’ve never known a Democratic Party that fought for them, and he wants to change that.

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