Colorado Primary Results: Did Bernie Hold Off Joe Because of Early Voting?

Images from our November 2012 slideshow "Joe Biden at Arvada West High School" and our February 16 slideshow "Thousands Gather in Denver to Support Bernie Sanders."
Images from our November 2012 slideshow "Joe Biden at Arvada West High School" and our February 16 slideshow "Thousands Gather in Denver to Support Bernie Sanders." Brandon Marshall/Evan Semón Photography
Colorado Democrats favored Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders over former vice president Joe Biden and his other rivals by a considerable margin in the Super Tuesday primary on March 3, according to the latest numbers from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. But the morning after, observers are wondering if the results might have been different if those who'd voted early by mail for candidates who dropped out before March 3, including ex-South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, had gotten a chance for a do-over.

The latest official vote count was updated at 12:25 a.m. today, March 4. The figures are dubbed unofficial, and the page offering the results includes this notice: "Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg, John K. Delaney and Amy Klobuchar officially withdrew as candidates for the Democratic Party. Under Colorado law, any votes cast for candidates who formally withdraw after ballots are printed are invalid and shall not be counted. As a result, no results for these candidates will be displayed on this state results page or any individual county results page. Results for candidates who did not officially withdraw but publicly announced suspensions of their presidential campaigns are displayed on this website, because such public announcements have no legal effect under Colorado election law."

As a result, we don't know how many Coloradans had already cast their ballots for Buttigieg or Klobuchar, moderates who came out in support of Biden on the eve of Super Tuesday. And their help didn't hurt, because Biden's performance in other Super Tuesday states startled plenty of pundits: He earned victories in at least nine of fourteen states, including Texas, and now leads Sanders 453 to 382 in delegates by one count. But thanks to a little thing called math, we can come up with at least the parameters for a reasonable guess.

In Colorado, Sanders collected 268,652 votes, or 36.08 percent, as of the most recent update, while Biden came in second, with 172,380 votes, or 23.15 percent. They were followed by onetime New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose attempt to buy as much love as possible resulted in 156,531 votes (21.02 percent), and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, with 128,089 votes (17.20 percent). Of the other nine Democratic candidates on Colorado's ballot, only one, Hawaii Representative and possible Russian asset Tulsi Gabbard,  collected more than 1 percent of the total; her 8,455 votes were good for 1.14 percent.

On the Republican side, President Donald Trump cruised to the sort of landslide he'd love to see this November, shoveling in 589,180 votes, or 92.60 percent of Republican voters. Five rivals picked up the remaining scraps; former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (21,370 votes, or 3.36 percent) and Joe Walsh, former Illinois representative and not a member of the Eagles (11,461, or 1.80 percent), collected the most.

Would a Colorado victory for Biden have been possible under a different voting system? The digits are key. The secretary of state's office registers 1,537,607 total ballots cast — an impressive turnout of 39.49 percent. But the combined total of votes on the Democratic and Republican ballots comes to just 1,380,928.

That's a difference of 156,679 — presumably, all ballots cast for people officially out of the race and so not counted. And since Sanders's margin of victory over Biden was 92,272, President Barack Obama's ol' running buddy might have claimed victory had he earned the lion's share of those. (The five other candidates who've dropped out of the presidential contest but didn't go through Colorado's process to withdraw — New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, author Marianne Williamson, ex-Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and rich guy Tom Steyer — scored another 8,852 votes between them.)

Of course, with the limited data available, it's impossible to know how many of these folks were Buttigieg and/or Klobuchar fans willing to jump on the Biden bandwagon. But the secretary of state's office reported that 938,464 ballots, or just over 61 percent of the latest total, had been returned as of February 28, before either Buttigieg or Klobuchar had surrendered. It's reasonable to surmise, then, that a big chunk of the 165,531 ballots that either weren't counted or were cast for other also-rans could have gone Biden's way.

But Sanders definitely had a lock in Denver County. His slice of the Mile High vote was 39.63 percent, while Biden managed just 16.08 percent, behind both Bloomberg (21.92 percent) and Warren (20.62 percent). That suggests that Biden's backers in Colorado are older and less urban than Sanders's — a combo that worked for a certain Donald J. Trump.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts