SALT LAKE CITY — Within three days, three presidential hopefuls: Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar all ended their campaigns for the White House, leaving thousands of Utahns who already cast ballots for these candidates feeling confused about whether their votes still matter.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she has received a “barrage of emails” from people asking if they could get a “do-over.”
“Unfortunately there is no way you can retrieve that ballot,” Swensen said. “It’s against the law to vote twice.”
As of Friday, 333,000 Utahns had voted early, representing about 22.8% of the state’s active voters, Justin Lee, director of state elections, told the Deseret News. These voters represent just a fraction of the total number of U.S. citizens who may have voted for a candidate who is no longer running for president ahead of Super Tuesday elections in 14 states. More than 2.7 million voters in California had returned ballots in early voting as of Thursday, The Associated Press reported.
But disgruntled voters may find solace in the fact that their ballot will still be counted.
While candidates like Steyer, Buttigieg and Klobuchar have announced the end of their campaigns, they have not officially withdrawn from Utah’s primary race, which would require an official filing with the lieutenant governor’s office, Swensen said.
Any candidate who gets 15% of the vote will still qualify for delegates, said Matthew Patterson, executive director for the Utah Democratic Party.
That means Buttigieg in particular still has a chance to earn some representation from Utah. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released Thursday showed the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had the support of 18% of Utah Democratic primary voters, which placed him third in the state behind Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg. Klobuchar on the other hand, polled at 4%, behind Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.
If none of the remaining Democratic candidates end up getting a majority of delegates, dropouts like Buttigieg (who already has delegates from Iowa and New Hampshire) could become free agents in a brokered convention, said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant.
A brokered convention is extremely unlikely however because delegates tend to coalesce around a frontrunner, according to a March 2 memorandum from the Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee. The memo states that delegates are not legally bound to vote for the candidate for whom they are elected, although they pledge “in all good conscience” to do so. In cases where a candidate is no longer viable, that candidate can encourage their delegates to vote for someone else, or the delegates may vote for the candidate of their choice.
The names that appear on Utah’s Democratic primary ballot were finalized months ago, said Merchant. Candidates had to notify the lieutenant governor’s office of their intention to run by Dec. 2 of last year, he said.
Since then, a number of candidates including Cory Booker, Julián Castro and Andrew Yang have dropped out of the race.
Now, only seven out of 16 candidates on Utah’s Democratic ballot are actually still in the running. Only four of those seven: Sanders, Bloomberg, Warren and Biden have demonstrated in polling that they have enough voter support to potentially win delegates from the state.
Merchant explained that Utah has 29 “pledge delegates.” Nineteen out of the 29 pledge delegates are apportioned by voting outcomes in each of the state’s congressional districts. Then, there are four “party leader or elected official” delegates, determined by Democratic party leaders and elected officials, including city mayors and state legislators. Finally, six “at-large” delegates are determined by overall voting in the state.
Making sure votes count
Swensen said she has been working hard to make sure Salt Lake County voters have the most up-to-date information at the polls. She has been updating an online list that shows which candidates on the Republican and Democratic ballots have withdrawn and which have announced the end of their campaigns. In addition, her team has been printing out paper lists to be posted at polling stations.
Swensen noted that if a person has filled out their ballot but didn’t mail it in yet, they can easily change their vote by crossing out their initial selection and marking a new one.
That’s not an option for Jack Despain, 24, an airman in the U.S. Air Force stationed outside Omaha, Nebraska, who mailed in his ballot last week. Despain, who is from Cedar Hills, Utah, voted for Buttigieg even though he was aware there was some chance the former mayor could drop out before his vote was counted.
“I‘m still happy to have voted for him,” Despain said. “He was the only candidate who really inspired me.”
Despain wishes, however, that he had the option to rank his second and third choices as well. That way, he would have felt like he still had a say in who becomes the final nominee. A number of Utahns, including Shelly Cluff, 33, who lives in Riverton, have advocated for ranked-choice voting, which would allow voters to put the candidates in order of preference, rather than just choosing one.
Merchant said the method could help states zero in on “compromise candidates” that more people agree on.
For Despain, ranked-choice voting would ensure that even early mail-in ballots still “make sense” on the day they are counted.