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We Might Not Know Who Won Super Tuesday for Weeks

WASHINGTON — Were you frustrated by the slow vote count out of Iowa and Nevada? Just wait for Super Tuesday. The night’s biggest prize, California, has the slowest vote-counting system in the country. It often takes days if not weeks to get a call in close races. That could lead to a warped view of…

We Might Not Know Who Won Super Tuesday for Weeks

WASHINGTON — Were you frustrated by the slow vote count out of Iowa and Nevada? Just wait for Super Tuesday.

The night’s biggest prize, California, has the slowest vote-counting system in the country. It often takes days if not weeks to get a call in close races. That could lead to a warped view of who actually did well on the primary season’s most important night, and prove frustrating for Bernie Sanders, who’s favored to win the state, as well as other candidates hoping to be able to talk up big delegate hauls from voter-rich California.

“There’s going to be not one million but millions, plural, of votes not counted on election night,” said Ace Smith, a California-based Democratic strategist who was a senior adviser on Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign.

Smith would know. He was Harris’s top adviser during her attorney general race, when she trailed by enough on election night that her opponent confidently declared victory. Harris ended up pulling ahead to win — but it took three whole weeks.

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That’s typical in California, whose system is set up to make it as easy as possible to vote at the cost of speed and which has by far the most presidential delegates up for grabs of any state in the country. The state used to vote so late in the primary process it didn’t much matter, but California’s move to Super Tuesday means its pokey system could actually impact the shape of the race

This election, the state made it even easier to vote, and even harder to count ballots.

Californians can now register to vote up through election day, boosting the likelihood that more provisional ballots will be cast that will need to be checked by the state to make sure they’re valid before being counted. Voters can also drop mail-in ballots at physical polling locations.

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It’s unclear who this will hurt. Bernie Sanders is the favorite in California, and is banking on a strong win there to anchor his Super Tuesday map. He’s held a lead in most recent polls, though some show him up big while others show a much closer race. If he has a huge advantage the state could get called his way, giving him a major momentum boost. That happened in Nevada, where he was declared the big winner almost immediately even though the state took a full day to count its votes.

“I think he’s going to be enough ahead that we would get a call,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a Sanders campaign national co-chair.

But if things are even relatively close, it may take a long time to call the race. The last two quality polls of the state had Sanders with leads of seven and seventeen points, dramatically different pictures of the race, with very different results for Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg.

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The big question for those four candidates isn’t necessarily whether they can catch Sanders in the state, it’s whether they can hit 15% of the vote — the necessary cutoff to qualify for a share of California’s 144 statewide delegates. California will assign total 416 pledged delegates in the election, more than 10% of the 3,979 total pledged delegates up for grabs nationally.

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