The Colorado caucuses have been in the news nationally lately, thanks in large part to a certain glow-in-the-dark presidential candidate losing the state and stomping his presumably normal-sized feet in anger at not understanding the process. In the Centennial State, a caucus has been held in every election since 1912 with the exception of a brief period between 1992-2002, when primaries were held instead. The switch was made back to a caucus system following overwhelming voter rejection of Initiative 29. Now the controversy over whether caucuses are somehow less democratic than primaries are back on the mind of many voters, and the time may be ripe to make the switch.
The main difference between a primary and a caucus is the way votes are allocated. Under a caucus system, members of a precinct get together and select their delegate or delegates from those in attendance. Those delegates may then choose who they will vote for at the respective party conventions, though they will most likely be selected based on who they tell their fellow precinct members they will be voting for. A primary system allows all registered voters from each party to vote for their candidate, then the delegates are awarded based on state rules to the winning candidate(s). Some states allow for a winner take all system, some award them proportionally, and others have other methods for allocating theirs. The key notion in both, however, is that in Colorado it has always been a closed system, meaning that you must be a member of either the GOP or the Democratic Party in order to vote in their system.
Unaffiliated voters outnumber both Democrats and Republicans in the state, which has led to about a third of the state being completely ineligible to have a say in who the two major party candidates will be in the general election. Combining that with the Republicans keeping their process even more tightly closed than ever this year — going so far as to cancel straw polls — and thousands of Democrats were flat out told to go home when they showed up, and it’s clear the system left a lot of people unhappy this year.
There are now two plans floating around to change the system. The first is a ballot initiative being pushed by the group Let Colorado Vote. They are still in the process of gathering signatures in order to get it on the ballot. While this movement is still in its infancy, it is trying to garner support from key figures in the state as well as the general populace, only time will tell how successful they are.
The second option is one with a lot more traction and a lot more likelihood of becoming law, though it has a few obstacles as well. The State House will be hearing a proposed bill that has already cleared a committee vote that would allow not only statewide primary voting, but also switch to a partially open primary system. Instead of completely dismantling the caucus system, it would remain in place for local, county, and city elections. However, voters statewide would be allowed to vote using a temporary 30-day party affiliation, and would be able to do so using a mail in ballot, for presidential party nominations. Both of these measures are aimed at increasing access for those who can’t participate now due to not wanting to be associated with the increasingly oligarchal two-party system by registering with one or the other, and would allow those unable to vote in person to be able to do so.
The biggest obstacle here is that it has very little bipartisan support. Much of the GOP opposition comes along fiscal lines, at it would likely cost millions of dollars to implement even a partial primary in the state. They also have a hard deadline of May 11, when the current sessions ends, to get anything done on the issue.
You can read the entire bill right here.