On March 1, Colorado will have its 2016 caucuses. Thanks to heated races in both parties, Iowa and New Hampshire both experienced record turnout this year, meaning a lot of people will be voting who never participated in a caucus before.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re one of those voters.
How do I find my caucus?
The Colorado Republican Party has a webpage to help you find and preregister for your caucus. Simply enter your registered voting address and zip code.
What will it be like when I get there?
When you arrive, you’ll need to check in. Then you’ll be directed to your precinct’s caucus location. Your precinct is determined by the area in which you live, but only Republicans in your precinct will be present at your caucus. Each room will contain multiple precincts, but they’ll all be the same party. Everyone in your precinct’s caucus, and every precinct at a given location, will be the same party. This also means that if you live in an area with mostly Democrats, you’ll probably have fewer people at your caucus and vise versa.
One person will be designated beforehand to lead the precinct’s caucus. That person will usually have gone through some basic training.
There will be a plan, and you’ll proceed through that plan, discussing and voting on different issues. There will be a list of candidates for each race, and some candidates may have left informational materials for you to look through. Votes do not have to be anonymous, though your precinct can decide to have an anonymous vote.
It should be noted here that the key benefit of a caucus over a primary is the opportunity for discussion. You will have an opportunity to discuss every candidate and issue. This means that if you have an opinion on something and present a good argument, you may persuade others to change their votes. You’ll also get a chance to hear different perspectives from people who share your same political ideology.
Voting for president
Colorado will not have a presidential straw poll at this year’s caucus. The Republican Party decided to make the results of all presidential straw polls binding, meaning that whoever wins the straw poll will get that state’s delegates, even if that candidate is no longer in the race when the winner is officially picked in August. In response, the Colorado Republican Party eliminated the straw poll from the state’s caucuses.
This effectively preserves Colorado’s previous method of selecting presidential candidates, but eliminates any method of gauging popular support for different candidates in the state.
You can also influence who is chosen, though.
You’ll do this by selecting delegates. Each precinct can send a certain number of delegates to the County Assemblies. Both delegates and alternates will be elected by the people of the precinct, and those people will have to pay a small fee to help fund the event. These delegates have the chance to run and vote for delegates to attend District and State Assemblies. At the District and State Assemblies, delegates will be selected to attend the Republican National Convention.
It’s at the National Convention that these delegates will cast their vote for their favored Republican presidential nominee.
Selecting delegates who will vote for your presidential choice (or who will vote for other delegates who will vote for your choice) is the key to making your voice heard.
Complications of the delegate system
Selecting delegates is a complex process. Ideally you will get a feel for various people’s commitment to the principles you find important and which candidates they support, and you’ll send forward the people who agree with you. Practical questions do arise, though.
The most common of these is the issue of pledging your support to various candidates. Many delegates do this to garner support and make people more comfortable with voting for them. Once you’ve pledged your support for a candidate, though, you are obligated to vote for that candidate – no matter how circumstances have changed.
This means that if a candidate says or does something which causes you to revoke your support for him or her, you are still obligated to vote for them. Even if they drop out, your vote goes to the person you’ve pledged it to.
The only thing you can do at that point is not run for a higher Assembly, and instead vote for the people who best represent your current views.
You don’t have to pledge your support to a candidate, though. There is no requirement to pledge your support when running as a delegate. There’s also no requirement that says you must represent the majority vote of your caucus, either on issues or candidates. Delegates should make their positions known and work to represent their precinct as well as possible. Caucus votes can help you do that, but are not binding.
What will happen at higher assemblies?
County, District and State Assemblies operate similarly to caucuses, but on a larger and more formal scale. The same discussions will occur, and the same votes will be tallied. Again, attendees will select delegates to represent them at higher assemblies. In these Assemblies, some delegates will run as official delegates for certain candidates.
All Caucuses and Assemblies are fundamentally based on Robert’s Rules of Order, but higher assemblies adhere to this more strictly, and leaders can be criticized for not following those rules – for instance, inserting their opinion into the debate.
What will we vote on?
There are three major things you’ll vote on at the Caucus.
The first is candidates. You’ll vote for US House and Senate Candidates, primarily, but positions as diverse as CU Regent and state legislative positions may be contended. Candidates who get more than 30 percent of the vote at the State Assembly will have their names listed on the primary ballot in June. Then the primary will decide the final candidates for these positions. Candidates may choose to petition their way onto the ballot, which means that their names might not be featured on the caucus ballot.
Second, you’ll vote on resolutions. Unlike the Democrat Party Platform, the GOP platform is comprised of a series of resolutions, voted on by caucus attendees.
Third, you’ll vote on proposed legislation. Legislation which gets on the November ballot starts at caucuses.
Attending a caucus can be a rewarding experience, and one which ripples through the political process. It’s also a great way to get more involved in the political system. In a county like Boulder, which leans Democrat but has over 40,000 Republicans, this can be a powerful thing.