TOPEKA, Kan. – Joe Biden has overwhelmingly won a Democratic presidential primary in Kansas that the state party conducted exclusively by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The former vice president had been expected to prevail in Saturday's vote and capture a majority of the state’s delegates to the Democrats’ national nominating commission. Biden took 77% of the vote.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was still in the race when the Kansas party began mailing ballots at the end of March, but he suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden.
Biden won 29 delegates and Sanders got 10, inching Biden closer to the number of delegates he needs to clinch the Democratic nomination. He has a total of 1,435 delegates and needs 1,991 to win the nomination on the first ballot at the party’s national convention this summer, a threshold Biden is likely to reach in June after many states postponed their primaries. Sanders has 984 delegates, according to the count by the Associated Press released Sunday.
Democratic leaders originally had planned to set up polling places across the state in addition to allowing mail balloting. But they scrapped plans for in-person voting at the end of March after Kelly issued a statewide stay-at-home order, and the change nearly tripled participation over four years ago, with 34.7% of registered Democrats casting ballots.
“Kansas Democrats made history in this election with record participation levels along with demonstrating how a vote-by-mail election can protect voters and our democracy, even in the most uncertain of times," party chairwoman Vicki Hiatt said in a statement. “We are confident the enthusiasm and engagement seen during the 2020 Primary will only continue to grow and translate into Democratic victories up and down the ballot in November.”
A Democratic presidential candidate hasn't carried Kansas in November since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Sanders easily won Kansas’ caucuses in 2016 over former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, riding a surge of enthusiasm among liberal voters and first-time caucus-goers. But the state party mailed ballots this year to more than 400,000 registered Democrats to get a far larger turnout than the 39,000 who voted four years ago.
The primary determined how 39 of the state’s 45 national convention delegates would be allocated. The remaining six are party leaders, including Gov. Laura Kelly and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids.
Besides Biden and Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also were on the Kansas ballot. Voters also could choose to be uncommitted.
The contest also featured ranked-choice voting, allowing voters to pick more than one candidate and rank them. The lowest vote-getter — Gabbard in this case — was then eliminated, and her votes redistributed to the other choices in a second round if voters listed a second choice. That process continued until only candidates with at least 15% of the vote remained, eventually only Biden and Sanders.
Editors: This story has been corrected to explain that in the ranked-choice voting, only the lowest vote-getter was knocked out after the first round, not all candidates with less than 15% of the vote.
Follow John Hanna on twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna