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Curious Colorado: How Does Colorado Distribute Its Delegates?

Rae Solomon
A sign at the voter service and polling center at the Blair Caldwell Library in Denver on March 3, 2020.

Today is Super Tuesday, the day that Coloradans officially get a say in the presidential primary.

And, while we may start getting initial results about turnout and voter preferences at 7 p.m. when the polls close, it may take longer to calculate how many delegates each candidate will receive.

Colorado Republicans will award 37 delegates and Colorado Democrats will award 67 delegates based on primary results.

 While this is fewer than some states like California, with 415 delegates, or Texas, with 228 delegates, it's still a great deal more than others, such as Vermont, with 15, or Maine, with 24.

But many Coloradans are not aware of the complex math behind how their votes are translated to delegates. One KUNC listener asked via Curious Colorado:

How are the delegates allocated in (the) Colorado presidential primary? How does the 15% rule work?

Here's the answer:

Colorado's delegates are awarded based on both statewide and congressional district level results.

Halisi Vinson, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, said that state Democrats will allocate 23 delegates based on statewide results, and an additional 44 delegates based on congressional district results.  

Vinson explained that the number of delegates per congressional district is "allotted according to Democratic turnout in past years." Areas that have seen higher Democratic turnout — Congressional Districts 1 and 2, for instance — will have more delegates going to the national convention than congressional districts with historically lower Democratic turnouts, Vinson said.

And there is a viability threshold of votes a candidate must receive to get any delegates in Colorado. On the Republican side, the threshold is 20%. On the Democratic side, the threshold is 15%.  That means if a candidate gets less than that threshold, they receive no delegates.

Don Ytterberg, a senior advisor to the Colorado Republican Party, explained how the viability threshold might play out on the Republican side on Super Tuesday: "There are, for example on the Republican ballot, six candidates, including President Donald Trump. While they are all eligible to receive delegates, the probability is that not all will pass a threshold to receive any."

The polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Initial results might come in on the same night, but official results may take longer, and may depend on last-minute efforts to get out the vote.

"We've seen a lot of people turn in ballots day of night before, or registered and voted in the same day," Vinson said. "So if those numbers are significant, that will be the indicator of whether we can call it on Tuesday or not." 

There are two notable changes to this nominating process in our state for the 2020 election.

The first is the switch from a caucus to a primary for the presidential contest. The second is that unaffiliated voters can choose which party to vote in. Unaffiliated voters received both ballots in the mail, and choose which ballot to return.

This segment is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for March 2. You can find the full episode here.

KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
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