Early Utah voters who cast ballots for presidential candidates who just withdrew cannot get a do-over. But their votes might just earn delegates for those dropouts anyway.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said Monday that after double-checking the party’s rules, he found that as long as a candidate achieves 15% of the vote statewide or in a congressional district, they would earn a share of delegates proportional to their vote — even if they announced they had withdrawn.
Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., exceeded that 15% level in late polls. Merchant said if he wins 15% in the final vote, “he will be apportioned delegates based on the proportional number of vote he gets.”
Buttigieg could then do with his delegates as he pleases, including releasing them to other candidates. News reports on Monday said Buttigieg planned to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden.
[Read more: Amy Klobuchar campaigns in Utah and, hours later, drops out]
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer also pulled out of the race Sunday and Monday, but Utah polls had not shown them achieving the 15% level needed to win delegates.
Officials say it appears many Utah voters had been delaying their vote to wait for late developments — so they will be able to cast ballots for one of remaining candidates.
Utahns have been voting for weeks before Tuesday’s presidential primary because the state votes primarily by mail, which creates an unfortunate situation for people who voted early for a candidate who since dropped out.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls and emails from people asking if they can cast another ballot now. Unfortunately, state law doesn’t allow that,” said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.
[Read more: Robert Gehrke: Here’s how we could have improved Utah’s Super Tuesday experience]
Justin Lee, state elections director for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, said county clerks will count ballots even for withdrawn candidates unless that person files formal paperwork withdrawing — which Buttigieg and several others have not done yet.
Swensen said only about a third of the people in her county who received Democratic ballots — including unaffiliated voters and 1,400 Republicans (Democrats allow anyone to participate in their primary here) — have returned ballots so far.
“I think a lot of people will still be voting, so we still expect a lot of ballots to be coming,” she said. “I think a lot of people waited to see who would drop out.”
By-mail ballots must be postmarked by Monday to be counted. On Election Day, numerous in-person voting centers are open statewide, or voters can drop ballots in ballot collection boxes in numerous locations. Sites are listed online at vote.utah.gov.
Lee said that statewide as of Monday morning 362,500 ballots had been submitted early — about 24% of all active voters.
Swensen said her county is posting a list of all candidates who have publicly announced they have withdrawn on its voting machines, even though many of them still appear on the ballot. “It’s all we can do,” she said.