Democratic Party rule could give some of Bernie Sanders’ Utah delegates to Joe Biden

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Bernie Sanders won the lion’s share of Democratic delegates in Utah during the Super Tuesday presidential primary, but a longstanding Democratic Party rule could force some of his delegates to support presumptive nominee Joe Biden at the party’s convention in August.

There are several types of pledged delegates awarded by states following their presidential caucuses and primaries. Some are awarded by congressional district, others are statewide, known as “at large” delegates, then there are the PLEO delegates, which are delegate slots reserved for Democratic party leaders or elected officials. Pledged delegates are “bound” to a candidate on the first round of voting at the national convention. 

After the March primary, Biden was awarded 7 total delegates, while Sanders won 16. Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren each won 3 district-level delegates. Utah has 6 unpledged, or “superdelegates,” that are not bound to any candidate.

Sanders was awarded three statewide PLEO  and four at large delegates, while Biden won one PLEO and two at large delegates. 

When Sanders dropped out of the race on April 8, Utah had not yet elected the people who would fill those at statewide slots. Under a longstanding party rule, those positions would no longer go to Sanders, but instead would be awarded to the last candidate in the race which, in this case, meant Joe Biden. Those delegates would also be bound to Biden on the first vote at the convention.

Understandably, that shift caused some concern among Utah’s Biden supporters who campaigned for those delegate slots at the just-completed Democratic state convention.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said he spoke with both Biden and Sanders campaign staffers over the weekend, and they mutually agreed to allow those seven delegate slots to remain pledged to Sanders come August. 

The decision is probably best described as an olive branch from Biden to the Sanders campaign as there still may be some raw emotions following a long and contentious primary season.

“Utah supported Sanders in the primary, and we will award him those slots,” said Merchant. “Some of those people who were elected to those slots were confused, and they did not like the idea of supporting Biden given the results of the Utah primary.”

Merchant said those seven slots will be seated at the convention as Sanders delegates, which will give the Utah delegation a little more influence over the party’s platform.

“The Biden campaign understands that Bernie’s supporters want to influence the platform. This way, they are still allowed to participate at the convention,” said Merchant.

The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to take place in Milwaukee in August after the original date was pushed back due to COVID-19. Merchant says he’s still optimistic that the party will have an in-person event later this summer.

“The Democratic National Committee has indicated we will have a live, in-person convention this summer,” said Merchant. “We’re excited to participate in that, but also cognizant of the fact that safety issues could change the circumstances.”

The prospects that the DNC will have an in-person convention dimmed a bit in April when the host committee laid off more than half of its staff due to the coronavirus pandemic.