Wednesday, March 25, 2020

New York State Legislature Begins Working on Alternatives to April 28 Presidential Primary

Over the last few days the New York state assembly began work on an effort to plan for an alternative to its April 28 presidential primary amid the coronavirus threat. Thus far that has taken a couple of different forms.

The first is a bill -- A 10207 -- sponsored by 16 Democrats in the Assembly. It would keep the date on April 28 but move to an all absentee election. Voters would not be asked to submit any request for an absentee ballot. Instead, the local board of elections would send out ballots to voters at least 15 days before the late April primary. That would put a significant burden on local elections officials in a short window of time. April 13 -- 15 days before the planned primary on April 28 -- is less than three weeks away. Even with more time, a transition to an all-absentee process would be expensive and challenging for local elections officials. With a time crunch, it would likely be worse. And with New York the epicenter of the coronavirus spread and social distancing being stressed/enforced, it would be even more difficult.

While the absentee bill may not see the light of day due to implementation conflicts, the second set of bills may. There are identical bills -- one in the Assembly (A 10173) and one in the Senate (S 08108) -- that call for the April 28 New York primary to be consolidated with the primary for other offices on June 23. While that would certainly provide New York with a lot of time to get out from under the shadow of this coronavirus outbreak, it would put both state parties squarely in the crosshairs of national parties' rules. June 23 would come after the date on which the DNC requires states to have conducted delegate selection events (June 9) and also after a similar RNC deadline (June 13). That would make both state parties vulnerable to penalties associated with timing violations, a 50 percent reduction in the Democratic delegation and a more than 90 percent delegation reduction under the Republican super penalty.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has already issued a memo cautioning states about shifting to dates that fall outside of the window in which states are to hold delegate selection events. And this is not exactly overly harsh in the context of the coronavirus. Yes, the states need some more time, but the national committee also needs time to finalize the delegate selection process and prepare for a convention that will gavel in just around three weeks after any June 23 contest. That is a quick turnaround. And would represent one more loose thread in a sea of them as the coronavirus continues to affect electoral implementation in the context of the nomination process in both parties.

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