On Tuesday, voters will gather for Colorado’s caucuses — but not as many as you’d think.
In fact, only about 22 percent of Colorado’s registered voters participate in the caucuses, leaving major electoral decisions in the hands of a few party activists.
The state did away with presidential primaries in 2003, relying on the cumbersome caucus system to begin the process of selecting local, state and national leaders.
While some people loathe the system, claiming it’s clunky, time-consuming and outdated, others embrace it, lauding it as the last vestige of true democracy.
But it really isn’t.
It’s unfair to unaffiliated voters, for one thing. It allows candidates to ignore the state, for another.
About 37 percent of Colorado registered voters are barred from participating because they didn’t affiliate with one of the major parties. Independent voters are the state’s fastest-growing political bloc — with more than 67 percent of newly registered voters choosing to be unaffiliated — and shouldn’t be ignored or marginalized.
Caucusing is different from primaries. Instead of going to vote and leaving, people debate the issues, discuss individual candidates and vet their policies. At the end, neighbors vote on candidates and select delegates to the County Assembly, which then sends delegates to the state level to vote on delegates for the national conventions.
The caucuses take place on a single night, instead of allowing 22 days of early voting in the primary system. It shortens not only the time to vote, but caucuses keep only the most active partisans involved in the tedious process.
In some ways, the Colorado Republican Party’s leaders already made the first steps toward ending the caucus. It decided early on in the election season that it would not conduct a vote on presidential candidates at the caucus level. They made the decision because they didn’t want delegates to be “bound” to vote for specific candidates.
Why is changing the system important?
For a variety of reasons, many major candidates are selected even before the general elections — we know who will win. In many legislative and congressional districts, members of the majority party determine who gets elected during the June 8 primary, well before all voters can participate. In El Paso County, the Republican majority can decide the outcome of elections well before the majority of people even cast their votes.
It’s a system, some claim, that rewards extremes instead of compromise and consensus. It also leads to apathy among the electorate, who won’t turn out to vote when the decision has already been made by a chosen few. People stay home, and democracy suffers.
But it’s also about the state’s economy.
As Mayor John Suthers said when he attended the local Building a Better Colorado meeting last year: If you want to bring more money, more attention, more economic development to Colorado, have a presidential primary.
It’s time to end the cumbersome caucus process and re-install a presidential primary. As a crucial swing state, Colorado will benefit from an influx of candidate dollars as well as an influx of attention on the Centennial State.