Thousands of Coloradans likely voted for Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg on their Democratic primary ballots, but it’s the procrastinators who have the greatest shot at making a difference in Tuesday’s results.
Or maybe call them the patient voters — the ones willing to wait to see where the dust settled.
Less than 48 hours after polls closed Saturday in South Carolina — and after hundreds of thousands of votes had been cast in Colorado — the Democratic field narrowed to five major candidates. Klobuchar’s decision Monday to leave the race, following Buttigieg’s exit Sunday night, came a short time before she was due to hold a rally in Denver, resulting in its cancellation.
Their departures removed key moderate competition to former Vice President Joe Biden as he takes on the delegate leader, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, heading into Super Tuesday.
On the heels of his strong victory in South Carolina, Biden also unleashed a flurry of establishment endorsements nationwide Monday. Among those backing Biden in Colorado were former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who both portrayed him as best suited to unite the party and country against President Donald Trump. Late Monday, former Gov. Roy Romer was among several new Colorado additions to Biden’s endorsement list.
But the key endorsements came when Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, and Klobuchar, a U.S. senator from Minnesota, joined Biden in evening appearances in Dallas.
What does this all mean for voters in Colorado’s primary?
For starters, it’s hard to predict whether the support coalescing behind Biden will be enough to topple Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, here and in other states where he’s polling strong. Two Colorado polls last week gave Sanders leads of 12 and 14 percentage points over the rest of the field here.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren — another active left-leaning candidate — was best positioned to come in second, though Buttigieg, Biden and billionaire Mike Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, weren’t far behind her. Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s still active, polled in the single digits.
Rachel Webster, 46, an Adams County Democrat who was featured in a Denver Post story about undecided voters Sunday, had been considering Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, along with Warren. But she wasn’t ready to follow the two withdrawn candidates to Biden.
“I’m 95% sure I’m going to vote for Warren,” she said Monday. “I like her platform better — I think it’s a little more progressive. (And) she’s a woman. The one thing I like about Biden is that he’s so middle-of-the-road that I think he could attract some moderates and possibly Republicans, but really, when it comes to my own ideology, I align well with Warren.”
But she likely was going to wait until Tuesday — just to be safe.
Ballot boxes close at 7 p.m. Tuesday
Colorado shares a Super Tuesday primary with 14 other states and territories that will be voting. About a third of delegates to the Democratic convention are at stake Tuesday, dwarfing the total awarded in the first four contests.
Colorado has 67 “pledged” delegates that will be apportioned based on the statewide vote as well as totals in each congressional district. To qualify for delegates at either level, candidates must reach a 15% support threshold.
Voters have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to return their ballots to a drop box or to vote in person. Those who have already returned ballots marked for a withdrawn candidate, though, are out of luck. Their original votes still will be tallied.
Voters who have marked their ballots but haven’t submitted them yet have a simple fix available: Just cross out the first candidate’s name and fill in the oval next to the second. Or, if they want to be extra careful, they can bring the mismarked ballot to a county voter service and polling center — find one at www.govotecolorado.gov — and ask for a new printed ballot, allowing them to vote in person.
State House Majority Leader Alec Garnett told reporters Monday morning that there should be a discussion about changing the law to allow voters to make their voices heard through Election Day.
“Every voter should have the opportunity, even if their vote was cast for the election, and their candidate dropped out, to go in to the county clerk and have the opportunity to pull a provisional ballot and vote for who remains in the race,” Garnett said.
But for now, that option doesn’t exist.
1.2 million ballots cast — and many more to come
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said Monday that officials anticipate record-setting returns for a primary election. Colorado is switching back to a presidential primary system this year after several cycles of caucuses. As of mid-afternoon Monday, about 1.2 million ballots had been returned, and Democratic ballots overtook Republican ballots — which featured Trump’s uncompetitive primary against several GOP challengers.
The total number of returned ballots nearly matched the total votes cast during the entirety of the 2018 primaries, when both parties had competitive statewide races.
The slower pace for Democratic ballots this time signaled a likely avalanche of Democratic ballots coming late Monday and Tuesday, election watchers said. Secretary of State Jena Griswold said 30% to 40% of voters typically cast their ballots on Election Day, and she anticipates late voting will reach the higher end of that range Tuesday.
Adding to the uncertainty: Unaffiliated voters can participate, as can 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the Nov. 3 general election.
Unaffiliated voters, who have the option of participating in the primary of their choice, have participated in the Democratic contest by a margin of two-to-one so far, according to state data.
The key question for Sanders is whether younger voters, who haven’t voted in nearly as large of numbers as older voters thus far, will show up big in later ballots. Sanders’ support was strongest among respondents younger than 45 in last week’s Magellan Strategies poll.
The Sanders campaign, which has an active volunteer network, touted Monday that supporters knocked on 21,800 doors across the state as part of its mobilization efforts.
The expected surge in late voting could mean a drawn-out count in Colorado’s larger counties, extending into Wednesday and possibly longer. The Denver Elections Division already has announced that it plans to stop processing ballots at midnight and resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
If the race is close here, it may take a day or two to learn if Sanders has held Warren, Biden and Bloomberg at bay.
Staff writer Saja Hindi contributed to this story.