Denver Post uncovers that Democratic Party told Hillary Clinton’s campaign about caucus counting mistake, but kept public and Bernie Sanders camp in the dark
Bernie Sanders won one more delegate in Colorado than first projected after the Colorado Democratic Party admitted this week that it misreported the March 1 caucus results from 10 precinct locations.
The party reported the error — first uncovered by The Denver Post — to rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign but kept the Sanders team in the dark.
The mistake is a minor shift with major implications. The new projection now shows the Vermont senator winning 39 delegates in Colorado, compared to 27 for Clinton.
Even if Clinton wins all 12 superdelegates in the state, Sanders can finish no worse than a split decision. The new count contrasts with prior projections from The Post, Bloomberg Politics and The Associated Press that indicated Clinton would probably win the majority of the 78 delegates in Colorado because of her support from party leaders with superdelegate status.
If Sanders lands one Colorado superdelegate — two are still undecided and others are facing significant pressure — he could win the state’s delegation.
The revelation that the state party misreported the results to the public March 1 — and kept it quiet for five weeks until confronted by The Post — comes as Sanders seeks to convince Democrats that he can win the nomination.
And it arises a day after the Colorado Republican Party faced blistering criticism from Donald Trump and his supporters about how it awarded national delegates in what the candidate called a “rigged” system.
The double-barrel controversies regarding Colorado’s caucus system will only reinforce calls for the state to move to a primary vote that allows more transparency and participation among voters who felt left out of the complicated process.
Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said Monday that all votes cast Super Tuesday counted — and dismissed suggestions about fraud.
“It was basically a reporting error on caucus night,” Palacio said in an interview.
The problem, he said, occurred when a volunteer at Byers Middle School in Denver punched the wrong vote tallies from 10 precincts into the party’s interactive voice response system for the presidential preference poll.
The state party’s website reported March 1 that Sanders won 14,624 votes, or 54 percent, in Denver County and Clinton took 12,097 votes, or 45 percent.
But the corrected numbers for Denver County give Sanders 15,194 votes, or 56.5 percent, and Clinton with 11,527, or 43 percent, according to official party results.
The error low-balled Sanders’ margin of victory in the county by nearly 4 percentage points — a boost that shifted how the delegates were projected for the 1st Congressional District.
The results reported on caucus night indicated that Sanders and Clinton would split the district’s eight national delegates, 4-4. But the new numbers gave Sanders five delegates and Clinton three.
“It was an embarrassment on our part for sure,” Palacio said.
The new math became apparent at the 1st District convention straw poll Saturday, when Sanders took five delegates and Clinton three.
The Sanders campaign initially thought it picked up support in Colorado. But Palacio said Clinton didn’t lose support in the 1st District, “we just misreported it.”
“It was basically one site,” he added. “Whomever dialed the numbers in must have had a little weirdness happen. The official results were reported correctly, but when they dialed them in using the touch-tone, it looks like something got transposed.”
Democratic Party officials discovered the error a week or so after the caucus when it reviewed the votes from the official precinct paperwork. But it did not publicly admit the mistake, nor change the website where it reported caucus results, coloradocaucus.org. The website still featured the incorrect numbers Monday night.
Palacio said, the site “is only used for reporting to the press. It wasn’t used in an official way. So we didn’t go back and actually look at the website versus the math sheets.”
Palacio told the Clinton campaign when he learned of the mistake, but the Sanders campaign didn’t realize what happened until informed by the Post.
“We are obviously pleased to essentially narrow the delegate lead by two delegates, one up and one down, it’s a zero sum game,” said Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver in an interview.
As to whether Sanders can win a superdelegate and claim a majority of the state’s delegation, Weaver said the campaign considers them separate tallies.
“Once we get to the convention, they’ll have an opportunity to take a look at the two candidates and choose the candidate who is best able to defeat the Republicans in November,” he said. “We are very gratified that we not only won the pledged delegates in Colorado, we apparently won them by a larger margin.”
As for the party’s actions, Weaver said it is “certainly disturbing that the information gets sent to one campaign and not to another.”
Palacio said he didn’t tell the Sanders camp “because it didn’t necessarily affect (them). It was our mistake that ended up affecting the estimation of Hillary’s campaign.”
A Clinton campaign spokeswoman declined to comment.
Palacio said the party discovered no other mistakes in precinct reporting and downplayed concerns about the tallies because the March 1 vote didn’t apportion any actual delegates.
“I go back to my position on a presidential primary,” he said. “I think caucuses are great for smaller races but Colorado has outgrown the caucus system in presidential years.”
At each layer in the Democratic delegate process, the party takes a new straw poll — just as it will at the state convention Saturday in Loveland to award the final delegates. The precinct-level results merely inform the future votes and allow projections used by national news organizations to track delegate totals.
“It’s not unusual for numbers for shift (loyalties) and that’s why we have straw polls at each step of the way,” Palacio said.
To match the results from caucus night, a campaign’s supporters need to show up in the same proportions at the congressional district and state conventions.
Sanders won the state 60 percent to 40 percent in the popular vote and is expected to reap the benefits Saturday if his supporters turn out.
John Frank: 303-954-2409, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ByJohnFrank