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AP Decision Note: What to expect in Hawaii’s Democratic presidential caucuses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hawaii Democrats will hold a presidential preference vote on Wednesday as President Joe Biden moves closer to securing the delegates needed to clinch nomination for a second term in the White House.

Appearing on the ballot with Biden will be U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, self-help author Marianne Williamson, who recently reentered the race after dropping out early last month, and two lesser-known candidates. Voters will also have the option to select “Uncommitted.”

The event takes place in the wake of Super Tuesday, the largest day of voting on the presidential primary calendar with 15 states and American Samoa holding contests for the Democratic nomination. Hawaii Republicans will hold their caucuses less than a week later on March 12.

State Democratic party officials originally planned to hold an entirely vote-by-mail primary on April 6, but in January they submitted a new plan to the Democratic National Committee changing the event to a smaller scale and less expensive caucus vote, saying that they had been unable to raise the funds to hold the all-mail event. Unlike the better-known caucuses that the Iowa Democratic Party used to hold, where participants voted by moving around a room to form groups in support of a particular candidate, the caucuses in Hawaii and many other states are more straightforward. Voters show up at a polling site at any time during voting hours, fill out secret ballots on pieces of paper and then leave once they’ve cast their votes. It’s essentially a small primary that is paid for by the party, rather than the government.

Biden won Hawaii’s party-run primary in 2020 with 63% of the vote, compared to 37% for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The 2020 event was converted to an all-mail primary because of pandemic restrictions and concluded in late May long after Biden had sewn up the nomination. The votes in 2020 were tabulated using ranked-choice voting rules, in which voters ranked the candidates in order of preference, with the votes of the lowest ranking candidates reassigned to voters’ next-preferred candidate. This year’s event will not use ranked-choice voting.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:


The Hawaii Democratic presidential caucuses will be held on Wednesday. Voting hours are 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time, which is 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET.


The presidential vote is the only contest the Associated Press will tabulate from the caucuses. The options on the ballot are Biden, Phillips, Williamson, “Uncommitted” and two other candidates. Elections will also be held for state party offices.


Voters registered in Hawaii who are enrolled members of the Democratic Party of Hawaii may participate in the caucuses, but same-day voter registration and party enrollment will be available at the caucus sites.


Hawaii’s 22 pledged Democratic delegates are allocated according to the national party’s standard rules. Five at-large delegates are allocated in proportion to the statewide vote, as are three PLEO delegates, or “party leaders and elected officials.” The state’s two congressional districts each have seven delegates at stake, which are allocated in proportion to the vote results in each district. Candidates must receive at least 15% of the statewide vote to qualify for any statewide delegates, and 15% of the vote in a congressional district to qualify for delegates in that district.


Although the results from an all-mail party-run primary and an in-person party run preference vote aren’t an exact apples-to-apples comparison, Biden’s 26-point victory in a non-competitive contest in 2020 does provide some indication of how he might perform in non-competitive contest in 2024 with largely the same pool of voters. Neither Phillips nor Williams have cracked 5% of the vote in contests so far where Biden appeared on the ballot.

The state party says it expects to be able to announce one set of final results after voting ends. If that’s the case, the AP’s winner call will be based on that announcement. The party also acknowledges the possibility that more than one vote update might be required.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.


The Democratic Party of Hawaii held its 2020 presidential preference vote entirely by mail for the first time. Slightly more than 35,000 voters participated, about 44% of the more than 79,000 ballots mailed out. Nearly 34,000 people participated in the in-person presidential vote in 2016.

The caucuses are an in-person event, but the state party says it will provide accommodations for people who can’t make it to a caucus site. This includes active-duty military, homebound, disabled or ill individuals, workers and people without childcare. It is unclear how many individuals the party will be accommodating.


Since the 2020 vote was conducted entirely by mail, there isn’t a recent event to provide a meaningful estimate of how long vote counting may take. Voting is scheduled to end at 1 a.m. ET, and the party expects to release a final set of results on caucus night.


As of Wednesday, there will be 166 days until the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and 244 days until the November general election.

Robert Yoon, The Associated Press

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