New York Board of Elections Cancels Democratic Presidential Primary

New York officials canceled the state’s Democratic presidential primary on Monday, calling the vote a “beauty contest” that the state could ill afford in the face of the coronavirus epidemic.

The move by Democrats on the New York State Board of Elections followed the decision by Senator Bernie Sanders to concede the Democratic presidential nomination to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., rendering the primary unnecessary.

Officials had struggled with the decision, which was certain to anger some supporters of Mr. Sanders, but they ultimately concluded that the risk of spreading the coronavirus was too great to justify holding an election with no real meaning.

Because of the board’s decision, voters in about 20 counties that had no other contests on their ballot will have no need to go to the polls on June 23.

Supporters of Mr. Sanders had mounted an email and phone campaign to pressure the two Democratic members of the Board of Elections to keep Mr. Sanders on the ballot and hold a presidential primary, allowing Sanders backers to amass delegates to the Democratic National Convention, where they could wield influence over the party platform.

The board’s Democratic co-chairman, Douglas A. Kellner, said he had read thousands of emails from Sanders supporters urging the board to go forward before making his decision to vote against holding the primary, but ultimately decided that it was time to acknowledge that the primary served no significant purpose.

“What the Sanders campaign wanted is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous,” Mr. Kellner said.

In a letter to the board on Sunday, Mr. Sanders’s campaign had urged the board to keep him on the ballot and hold a primary in the interest of party unity, and the Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution had cautioned against the presidential primary’s cancellation.

“Suppressing the Sanders vote in New York will again lead to attacks on the Party across the nation and harm the volunteer effort that our group and others are building for Joe Biden,” the group’s chair, Larry Cohen, said before the vote, suggesting he would challenge the New York delegation on the floor of the convention.

With the decision, made during a telephone meeting by the two Democrats on the election board, New York became the first state to cancel its presidential primary, only the latest major development in the shifting national electoral landscape. In response to the coronavirus epidemic, 16 states have postponed their primaries and many have taken measures to encourage voting by mail.

Despite arrangements to encourage absentee voting, polling places are expected to remain open in about 42 counties for down-ballot races.

Andrew J. Spano, the other board member who voted in the unanimous decision, said the chance a primary could spread the coronavirus to both the public and poll workers counterbalanced the wishes of Mr. Sanders’s supporters.

Mr. Spano, a former Westchester County executive, said he had only reached a conclusion on how to vote on Monday morning, following what he described as a roller coaster weekend, but ultimately concluded, “We should minimize the risk.”

Asked about the decision at his daily coronavirus briefing in Albany, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would not “second guess” the board.

“I know there are a lot of election employees, employees of boards of elections, who are nervous about conducting elections. But I’ll leave it up to the Board of Elections,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Mr. Kellner said the decision was in keeping with a New York law adopted on April 3 providing that candidates should be removed from ballots if they suspend or terminate their campaigns.

“Obviously the intent of the legislature was not to have a primary election where there is no real contest,” said Mr. Kellner, a Manhattan lawyer who voted in favor of scrapping the primary.

Elections officials had said it cost more than $300,000 for a medium-sized county to hold a primary — an amount that does not include sending pre-stamped absentee ballot applications to voters — estimating that the cost savings of not holding a primary would range in the millions of dollars.

The chairman of the state Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, had supported the move, saying that he had actively pushed to cancel the presidential primary in the state while still holding the congressional, State Senate, assembly and other local races.

“The more we can do to reduce the risk factor of running the primary, the smarter I think that it is,” said Mr. Jacobs.

Mr. Sanders’s campaign argued that the law permitting the Board of Elections to determine who had withdrawn from a campaign should not apply to him because it was too new.

“Senator Sanders wishes to remain on the ballot, and is concerned that his removal from the ballot would undermine efforts to unify the Democratic Party in advance of the general election,” said the letter, written by Malcolm Seymour, a lawyer for the Sanders campaign.

Mr. Sanders had said he was suspending his campaign on April 8, and he subsequently endorsed Mr. Biden. In doing so, however, he expressed a desire to remain on ballots and collect delegates in an effort to leverage his influence to push the party platform to better reflect his progressive positions.

The Republican presidential primary in New York had already been called off in February when no other candidates beside President Trump qualified for the ballot.

Officials in Connecticut had also pushed for calling off that state’s primary, which has been rescheduled to Aug. 11.

Consequences for canceling the Democratic presidential primary in New York, however, are uncertain at the moment.

Mr. Jacobs said he was not sure what it would mean for the state’s delegate count at the convention; that decision would be left to the Democratic National Committee’s rules committee.

“The D.N.C. has been very clear: the D.N.C. does not want to do anything that looks like we’re being unfair,” said Mr. Jacobs. “And we’re not being unfair, we’re just reacting to a global pandemic which happens to be centered in New York at the time.”

He added: “In a situation like this, lives have to trump politics, no pun intended.”

Sydney Ember and Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.