Sanders and Biden virtually tied in Washington presidential primary
UPDATE 11 p.m., Tuesday: Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden were virtually tied Tuesday night in Washington's Democratic presidential primary, separated by less than one percentage point.
Sanders barely led Biden, 32.7 percent to 32.5 percent, in early returns. More than 1.5 million votes have been counted so far.
Washington voters received their ballots before several candidates dropped out of the race. So far, none of those candidates has reached the 15 percent overall vote threshold to qualify for delegates.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren was in third place Tuesday night with just over 12 percent of the vote. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg followed with about 11 percent. Both candidates dropped out of the race last week.
Washington elections officials say turnout in Tuesday'spresidential primary is set to surpass turnout from four years ago, despite some dampening of momentum from candidates dropping out and the novel coronavirus.
Statewide voter turnout was at 32 percent as of Monday afternoon, according to the Secreatry of State's website. Total turnout in 2016 was nearly 35 percent.
Officials attribute some of the high interest to the earlier election date and the state Democratic party's decision to use the primary results instead of a caucus. Both of those moves aimed to make Washington more relevant in the national conversation around the presidential election.
But the once-crowded field has narrowed significantly since voters received their ballots last month. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden are the two major candidates left in the Democratic race. President Donald Trump is the only name on Washington's Republican ballot.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson says her office has been getting a lot of callsfrom people who voted early for candidates who have since dropped out. Some people even ask for their ballots back, which Anderson says is not allowed.
"Any ballot that's been submitted to us, we're going to count that vote as cast," Anderson said, adding that replacement ballots only exist for those that have been lost or damaged.
If a candidate who has dropped out gets 15 percent or more of the vote, the state party will still send delegates for that candidate to the national convention.
Officials say one benefit to voting by mail is that concerns over the new coronavirus are unlikely to depress turnout in Washington. Elections offices are taking extra precautions around sanitation and creating contingencies in case a lot of the people who process ballots get sick or need to quarantine this week.
King County expects to have most of its ballots counted by Friday, says county Elections Director Julie Wise.
"We're an agile workforce," Wise said. "We have staff that have been trained in multiple areas in this organization."
For example, once election day is over, people who empty ballot boxes or work the phones can be pulled into ballot processing if necessary.
For people who are sick at home and have not yet dropped off their ballots, Wise recommends calling the elections department to make sure their votes can be counted. The phone number is (206) 296-VOTE.