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New York cancels Democratic presidential primary during COVID-19 crisis

The Associated Press

In an unprecedented move, New York has canceled its Democratic presidential primary originally scheduled for June 23 amid the coronavirus epidemic.

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

New York Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs has said that the cancellation of the state's presidential primary would mean a lower expected turnout and a reduced need for polling places.

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"It just makes so much sense given the extraordinary nature of the challenge," Jacobs said last week.

Local election officials and voting groups have called on the state to use federal funds to purchase cleaning supplies and protective gear, and boost staff ahead of 2020 elections.

Both the state's Democratic Party and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have said they didn't ask election commissioners to make the change, which is allowed thanks to a little-known provision in the recently passed state budget that allows the New York board of elections to remove names of any candidates who have suspended or terminated their campaign from the ballot.

The decision to cancel a Democratic primary is left up to Democratic state election commissioners.

Alex Poam, left, sells gloves to a customer on a street corner in Manhattan, New York, Sunday, April 26, 2020. Poam is studying to be a computer and network technician; after taking online classes most mornings he sells PPE to pedestrians to support himself. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Former Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders announced earlier this month that he had suspended his campaign.In a Sunday letter, a lawyer for the Sanders campaign asked the commissioners not to cancel the primary.

"Senator Sanders has collaborated with state parties, the national party and the Biden campaign, to strengthen the Democrats by aligning the party's progressive and moderate wings. His removal from the ballot would hamper those efforts, to the detriment of the party in the general election," the lawyer, Malcolm Seymour, wrote in a letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

New York voters can now choose to vote with an absentee ballot in the June primaries under a Cuomo executive order that adds the risk of acquiring COVID-19 as a reason to vote absentee. Cuomo also recently announced the state is sending mail-in ballots to voters.

Jacobs has said it's a significant change but that the party's ready.

"It's a big process for us. We don't have many weeks to get it into place before the primary," Jacobs said. "It's going to be difficult to execute but we're going to do it."

Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments in New York:

SELF-SWAB TESTS:

New York City-run health clinics will soon take a new tack on coronavirus testing, using a procedure that lets people collect samples themselves at a health care worker's direction, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

He said the "self-swab" tests would allow for more and easier testing and make it safer for test-seekers and health care workers alike. 

"This is something we're going to start using aggressively because it will be better for everyone," the Democrat said. 

Up to this point, testing has mainly been done by health care workers inserting a swab deep into a person's nostrils. The feeling often makes someone sneeze or cough while the health care professional is right there, city Health and Hospitals President Dr. Mitchell Katz said. 

The new method is set to start within the next few days at eight community testing sites around the city. The process will work like this: A health care worker will explain how to administer the test, and then the person would take a nasal swab, with a health professional watching via a mirror to offer guidance, Katz said. The person getting tested then will spit into a cup for a second sample for cross-checking. The samples will then be given to a health care worker and tested. 

De Blasio said the method would allow health care workers and test-seekers to keep more distance; reduce the need to devote health care workers to administering tests, and allow the clinics to administer as many as 20 tests and hour, instead of 15.

So far, more than 5,000 people have been tested at the city-run community sites since April 17. 

The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.