The presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president on Saturday easily prevailed over former opponent Bernie Sanders in Hawaii’s presidential primary.

With 21,215 votes — 63.2% of the total cast — former Vice President Joe Biden defeated the U.S. senator from Vermont, who garnered 12,337 votes or 36.8%.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who dropped out of the race March 19 and endorsed Biden, effectively finished fourth, behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who quit on March 5. The ranked choice voting method used in the balloting resulted in the final vote tally for Gabbard, Warren and six other Democrats on the ballot.

Accordingly, neither Gabbard, who represents the 2nd Congressional District (covering half of Oahu and all of the neighbor islands), nor Warren picked up any delegates.

Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking at to the National Associate of Counties national meeting at Washington Marriot Wardman Park. 23 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday added Hawaii to his long list of presidential primary and caucus victories this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Per Democratic National Convention rules, Sanders is no longer eligible to be allocated at-large or PLEO delegates (pledged delegates who are party leaders and elected officials.)

But, according to a Democratic Party of Hawaii press release Saturday — per an agreement between the Biden and Sanders campaigns — “Sanders will be unofficially assigned his share of those delegates.”

The agreement means Biden gets 16 delegates and Sanders 8.

All Mail-In Balloting, RCV

Hawaii’s presidential Democratic Party-run primary, administered by the Merriman River Group of Connecticut, was conducted entirely by mail-in ballot. It comes as the state of Hawaii is conducting its first-ever mail-in voting for the Aug. 8 primary election and the Nov. 3 general election.

The primary was originally scheduled for April 4 and was to include some walk-in voting. But the outbreak of a pandemic changed that plan, as well as for many other elections across the country.

The primary was also conducted with ranked choice voting in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. 

RCV, as it is called, involves several rounds of elimination until a candidate wins an outright majority.

“Tulsi Gabbard’s popularity has sort of fallen off a cliff.” — University of Hawaii professor Colin Moore

The candidates on the Hawaii ballot also included businessmen Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer, former mayors Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg, former governor Deval Patrick and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Colin Moore, an associate professor of political science and director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii, said the outcome was about what he expected.

Bernie still has his core supporters here, and I imagine those were people who were early voters,” he said.

Interim Democratic Party Chair Kate Stanley announced the primary results at a press conference in downtown Honolulu Saturday. Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2020

Moore said that Gabbard, who is not running for reelection to the House, “did pretty poorly, even in her own district. Warren beat her in the first round. To not even come in third in her own congressional district is a demonstration that her popularity has sort of fallen off a cliff.”

Moore also observed that the number of ballots cast in the 2020 primary — 35,044 — was not much better than the number cast in the 2016 party caucus — 33,716 — in which Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton.

A total of 79,150 ballots were mailed to registered Democrats this year. Just over 44% were returned by Friday’s deadline.

Interim Democratic Party Chair Kate Stanley said at a press conference in downtown Honolulu Saturday that the all mail-in and RVC approach helped the party reach more voters. She expressed optimism that other states would move forward similarly in future elections.

Biden will oppose President Donald Trump in November. The Hawaii Republican Party did not hold a presidential contest this year.

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