U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the running for the Democratic presidential nomination, but his decision Wednesday to remain on the ballot could force Connecticut to nevertheless hold a primary under the threat of COVID-19.
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Sanders (I-Vt.) has suspended his campaign, but he vowed to keep his name on primary ballots in an effort to push his progressive ideas.
”While Vice President Biden will be the nominee,” Sanders said in an announcement Wednesday, “we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic Convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions.”
With Sanders refusing to have his name taken off the ballot, it’s likely Connecticut Democrats will be forced to hold a primary.
Under Connecticut law, the secretary of the state’s office says it must receive a letter from a candidate certifying that he or she is no longer in the running for president before that candidate’s name can be removed from the primary ballot.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill acknowledged that 2020 primaries in Connecticut would be a pointless endeavor.
“I do think that the justification for holding a primary at this point -- either Republican or Democrat -- simply isn’t there,” Merrill said in an interview with Connecticut Public Radio’s John Henry Smith on Wednesday.
Merrill and her colleagues at the state level have been preparing for an onslaught of absentee balloting because of COVID-19. Normally, this type of voting is allowed in the event of sickness, but the state’s constitution doesn’t allow residents to vote by mail simply to avoid becoming ill.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin witnessed the spectacle of voters wearing surgical masks, waiting for hours to get into polling places and lines extended for blocks as voters attempted to stand 6 feet from one another. That primary went ahead with in-person voting after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that would have extended mail-in balloting.
While Gov. Ned Lamont can’t override the constitution with an executive order, Merrill told Connecticut Public Radio on March 30 that her office asked the governor to change the language in the statute to expand absentee voting.
It all would have been unnecessary for 2020 had all the unlikely presidential hopefuls bowed out. Merrill said she breathed a sigh of relief when she heard Sanders was suspending his campaign, but that respite was short-lived.
“It does create a lot of concern and confusion on the ground in those of us who are still struggling with how to hold a primary under these incredible circumstances,” she said.
The state already delayed the primary from April 28 to June 2 in order to accommodate continued social distancing amid the threat of COVID-19.
Merrill’s office also told Connecticut Public Radio Wednesday that technically, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is still on the ballot despite having dropped out March 5. A spokesperson for Merrill said he heard from the Warren campaign that a letter clarifying her status was on its way.
On the Republican side, in addition to President Donald Trump, California businessman Roque De La Fuente is on the ballot. If his name remains there, a Republican primary in Connecticut would take place.
Clarification: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story described the primary as meaningless. Though Sanders has ended his presidential bid, he still hopes to win delegates in the state. We regret the error.