Super Tuesday Elections: What to know about Colorado’s presidential primaries

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Carrying his skis on the way to the slopes, Bob Christie of Breckenridge drops off his ballot on March 5, 2024, Super Tuesday, where primary voters in Colorado and 15 other states pick their party’s candidates to run in the fall presidential election.

Happy Super Tuesday! Colorado, 15 other states and one territory, from Maine to American Samoa, will host presidential primaries and caucuses today. By the evening, more ballots will have been cast in the presidential race than all the previous primaries and caucuses combined. CPR News will have the latest results from Colorado and across the country on air during special coverage starting at 6 p.m. tonight.

Coloradans who want to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries have until 7 p.m. tonight to either vote in person (remember your ID!) or get their mail-in ballots to a drop box; there are more than 350 across the state.

As of Monday morning, around 800,000 Coloradans had cast their ballots. 

Tuesday’s presidential primaries are all about deciding who will be at the top of the ballot in November’s general election. (Folks excited to vote in Colorado’s congressional primaries must wait until June 25.) And, even though you’ll only vote for your preferred presidential candidate, there are some options on the ballot that can be confusing for voters (like the “Noncommitted delegate” option).

Colorado’s primary system allows unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in party primaries. That means unaffiliated voters — the largest group in the state — are allowed to participate in either the Democratic or the Republican primary. But they have to pick one. They cannot vote in both. 

Unaffiliated voters received two ballots, one for each primary with the appropriate candidates. These voters can fill out one ballot and cast it. Then they can either throw away their second ballot or mail it in blank. 

If someone tries to vote in both primaries, both ballots will be disqualified. 

Counties are already counting mail-in ballots, and we expect to see the first batch of results shortly after polls close at 7 p.m., with more results trickling in as the night progresses.

While it’s widely expected President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will win the most delegates in their respective primaries Tuesday night, here’s what CPR News is watching in these races.

The Democrats: The strength of Biden’s victory and the ‘noncommitted’ delegate 

Biden is expected to sweep Super Tuesday’s contests, including in Colorado. But the question isn’t if Biden wins, it’s by how much. Typically, presidents running for reelection are expected to dominate their party primaries, winning 90 percent or more of the vote. (For perspective, then-President Barack Obama hit that threshold nationally during his 2012 reelection campaign.)

The thing to look for in the Colorado Democratic Primary is how many voters cast a ballot for any option other than Biden. Coloradans will be able to select any of the other seven candidates that aren’t Biden or the “Noncommitted delegate” option, which is exactly what it sounds like — a vote for no one. 

Colorado’s results may show how voters disenchanted by Biden might not be ready to support the Democratic incumbent and whether that erodes Biden’s margin of victory.

That “Noncommitted delegate” option has received a lot of attention due to the work of Pro-Palestinian activists in Michigan, who took advantage of a similar “uncommitted” option in that state to organize a protest against the Biden Administration’s handling of the war in Gaza. The push won 13.2 percent of the vote, enough for two non-committed delegates to be sent to the Democratic National Convention. It also inspired groups in other states to follow the same strategy, including in Colorado. 

In Colorado, the non-committed delegate group would have to win 15 percent of the vote in order to earn delegates to the DNC, the same threshold as any candidate on the ballot. Colorado sends 72 delegates to the nominating convention. However, unlike Michigan, Colorado’s non-committed delegates wouldn’t be free to choose any candidate at the convention. Instead, they would have to vote for no one in the first round of  the nominating process. 

The Republicans: Haley vs. Trump

After Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, in which the justices ruled that Colorado could not disqualify Trump from the ballot, it is now clear that votes cast for Trump will count in Colorado’s Republican primary.

Nationally, Trump is expected to win far more votes (and therefore delegates) than his rival, Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who served during the Trump Administration.

However, Haley has won around a third or more of Republican votes in many primaries — including 43 percent in New Hampshire and 39.5 percent in conservative South Carolina, where she previously served as governor. Last week, Haley won the District of Columbia with more than 62.9 percent of the vote. All of this shows Trump, while the clear front runner, has not coalesced full support of the GOP. 

How will that play out in Colorado? And might Haley break above 40 percent? 

In recent statewide Republican primaries, Colorado voters have selected the more moderate candidate and rejected more MAGA-like candidates — a trend that would play strongly to Haley’s advantage. And, with Colorado’s open primary, unaffiliated voters could choose to cast ballots in the Republican primary and select Haley. 

If Haley has a chance to prevent Trump from sweeping Super Tuesday’s 15 GOP contests, Colorado’s rules, as well as its election history, may give her an opening. However, Colorado’s state party has already endorsed Trump ahead of Tuesday’s primary and the former president has won all but one primary contest held so far. 

This post has been updated.