Panning New York’s ‘Pandemic Primary’

On Tuesday, June 23, the State of New York held primary elections for President of the United States, U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly, as well as a special election in New York’s 27th Congressional District.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voting procedures were relaxed to allow more extensive use of absentee ballots. Because many voters made use of the absentee process, it is taking longer than usual to count the votes. As of June 25, the results of many primary elections are still unknown, and will remain unknown until all absentee ballots are counted.

In western New York, State Sen. Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo) holds commanding leads in both the special election and the Republican primary in New York’s 27th congressional district. Sen. Jacobs leads Democrat Nate McMurray by a margin over more than two to one in the special election. In the Republican primary, Sen. Jacobs has received more than 70% of the vote, while neither Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. nor Beth A. Parlato, a former Darien town justice, have reached the 20% mark. Barring a truly shocking turn of events, Sen. Jacobs will become the next member of Congress in NY-27 and will be the Republican congressional candidate in that district this November.

In New York’s 22nd congressional district, former Rep. Claudia Tenney has received more than twice as many votes as George Phillips in the Republican primary. Tenney, who represented the district in Congress from 2017 to 2019, is expected to move on to face Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) this fall.

For unofficial vote totals, please visit the website of the New York State Board of Elections.

What have we learned from the June elections thus far?

The Left Is Energized

First, left-wing voters are energized. Far-left challengers have already toppled some liberal Democratic incumbents, while other incumbent Democrats are fighting for their political lives in races that are still too close to call. In New York’s 12th congressional district, with all in-person votes counted, longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) leads progressive challenger Suraj Patel by less than 1,000 votes. In New York’s 16th congressional district (which includes portions of the Bronx and Westchester County), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) trails progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman by a nearly two-to-one margin. It seems well-nigh impossible that Rep. Engel—who has held office since 1989—will have amassed enough absentee votes to win this race, and Bowman has already declared victory. In contrast to the struggles faced by some of her establishment colleagues, far-left Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx) enjoys a comfortable lead over her primary challengers in New York’s 14th congressional district.

The results of New York’s Democratic presidential primary were a foregone conclusion, as former Vice President Joe Biden is the only candidate left in the race. However, even the presidential primary showcased the extent of progressives’ dissatisfaction with the Democratic establishment. With the vast majority of in-person votes having been counted, unofficial results show that Biden won only 67.54% of the vote. Although Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) withdrew his presidential candidacy in early April, current results show that 19.04% of New York Democratic voters cast their ballots for him anyway. It is remarkable that the former vice president received only two-thirds of the vote within his own party, and it is remarkable that a candidate whose campaign ended over two months ago received such a high level of support.

Incumbents Could Be In Trouble

Second, 2020 is a tough year for incumbents. As of June 25, five veteran Democratic members of the Assembly (Asms. Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh), Michael DenDekker (D-Queens), Michael Miller (D-Queens), Steven Otis (D-Rye), and Aravella Simotas (D-Queens), respectively) trailed their primary challengers, while several others were running neck-and-neck with theirs. With the exception of Asm. Michael Miller (whose vote against abortion expansion likely offended the radical left), it is difficult to discern what transgressions against left-wing orthodoxy these Democratic incumbents committed; nevertheless, barring major comebacks when the absentee ballots are counted, several of them will be on their way out.

Gay Candidates Make Gains

Third, LGBT candidates remain popular on the left. In New York’s 15th congressional district (currently represented by retiring Rep. José E. Serrano, D-Bronx), openly-gay New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres leads a crowded field of other Democrats, including New York City Council Member Rev. Rubén Díaz Sr. Council Member Diaz—a former State Senator, Pentecostal minister, and outspoken pro-lifer—was thought to have a real chance at winning this Bronx district; at this writing, however, he sits in third place. In New York’s 17th congressional district (currently represented by retiring Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Scarsdale), out-and-proud candidate Mondaire Jones holds a sizable lead over seven other Democratic congressional hopefuls. Jones hopes to become the first openly homosexual African-American member of Congress.

Mail-in Balloting Marred

Fourth, the expanded use of absentee ballots was an unmitigated disaster. News reports indicate that many New Yorkers never received absentee ballots that they requested. While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly hindered the efforts of county boards of elections, these snafus are still unacceptable and must not be repeated. Furthermore, the huge numbers of absentee voters make it impossible to calculate the election results in a timely manner. They also make it easier for voters to fraudulently attempt to vote twice—once at the ballot box, and once by absentee ballot. This fall, the State of New York should return to its usual system in which absentee ballots are only available in limited circumstances.