Why does NY even bother with a presidential primary now? It has to do with Andrew Yang.

Andrew Yang burst onto the scene four years ago with an insurgent presidential campaign that energized a small but committed set of voters, offering an alternative to the staid Democratic candidates by espousing the merits of policies like a universal basic income.

While he suspended his presidential campaign in February of that year, when officials announced they were canceling the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, he joined with delegate candidates pledged to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in a lawsuit demanding that the election be held — and they won.

As the state’s most committed Democratic and Republican voters trudge to polls this year by the end of early voting on Saturday, or when polls reopen at 6 a.m. on Tuesday for Primary Day, they are voting in the shadow of that court decision, which prevented the state Board of Elections from canceling a primary with an all but certain outcome so that voters could affirm an already determined nominee.

Sound familiar?

New Yorkers will be asked to do the very same thing even as President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump clinched the Democratic and Republican nominations for the top of the ticket.

Doug Kellner, the former Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections and one of the defendants sued by Yang, said the lawsuit taught officials that “lots of people still wanted to be heard in the primary.”

Kellner said he thinks that is part of the reason why there was never a question about whether or not the parties would hold their primaries this year, “notwithstanding that everyone knows what the ultimate outcome is going to be.”

“From my point of view, elections are important,” Kellner added. “And you have to trade off the cost of having an election where people have to formally vote to confirm the authority of their delegates against the cost of holding it.”

And the cost is significant.

The New York City Board of Elections estimates that the city will spend roughly $25 million on this primary election alone. The city is also providing resources for voters who need language access assistance. There is another primary election for state and federal officials in June and then the general election in November.

Yang declined to comment for this story, and his attorney, Jeffrey Kurzon, did not respond to a request for comment. But J. Remy Green, an attorney who represented the group of Sanders delegate candidates in the case, noted that the political climate around this primary election is decidedly different compared to four years ago.

“The meaning of, call it a protest vote, is very different today than it was then,” said Green, whose clients hoped their support for Sanders could lead to a brokered Democratic National Convention where they could help shape the party’s platform.

Still, Green noted that there is still no better way to register a protest vote than at the ballot box.

“I think that insofar as that has a meaning, we are sitting somewhat in the shadow what happened in 2020 and maybe more to the point, there’s no other way to communicate these things because polling is all sampled and weighted and consistently gets things wrong in important ways,” Green added.

Voters will see Biden, Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips on this year’s Democratic presidential primary ballot. They will also see a list of delegates to the Democratic National Convention, who are all pledged to Biden.

Some voters are trying to register a protest vote in that contest over Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war by submitting blank ballots, which are the only way to cast an uncommitted vote in New York’s Democratic primary.

Republicans can choose from Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and Trump.

But even the state’s top party officials are downplaying the importance of these primaries.

“It is required by state law,” said state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs.

And Democrats aren’t the only ones feeling lackluster about Tuesday’s primary.

“The primary is over and our attention is focused squarely on the general election,” said David Laska, a spokesperson for the New York State Republican Party. “That means electing President Trump, his endorsed candidate for Senate, Mike Sapraicone, and defending our majority-making NYGOP House delegation.”

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