Will the Democrats’ convention be as chaotic as the GOP’s?

“I anticipate the Colorado Democratic Party will act in better faith than it has in the past. If they don’t, doggone it, there will be backlash.” — Rep. Joe Salazar

Will the Democrats’ convention be as chaotic as the GOP’s?

Democrats are hoping this weekend’s state convention won’t be anything like the chaos Republicans suffered through last Saturday. Statehouse lawmakers, including delegates, say they want the process to be clean, clear and transparent.

But some lawmakers and delegates are reserving judgment, based on an admission this week that delegates for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont weren’t properly counted by Democratic brass immediately after Super Tuesday caucuses.

We are a big tent party with Democrats with voices from all corners of Colorado,” said Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio in an attempt to calm nerves. “Our assembly and convention process is set up to be inclusive and transparent, and we look forward to a great day of uniting together to nominate candidates who will win in November and keep Colorado blue.”

Despit his cheeriness, he and the Party have racked up criticisms that they have already been less than transparent.

According to John Frank in The Denver Post, the state Party miscalculated the number of delegates won by Sanders, and didn’t notify the Sanders campaign of the error. The campaign found out only when notified by The Post earlier this week.

Palacio said Frank was misrepresenting the facts. Both campaigns had been notified of the numbers once they were added up correctly after the initial incorrect projections.

Sanders heads into this weekend’s convention with 39 delegates to 28 for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Whether those numbers will hold on Saturday depends on how well Sanders’ delegates educate themselves about the process, said Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst.

Sanders won just under 60 percent of the vote in the March 1 Democratic caucuses, to Clinton’s 39 percent. But since then, Clinton has won herself the lion’s share of “superdelegates,” all establishment Democrats like Gov. John Hickenlooper.


While Sanders won the majority vote at the caucuses, that doesn’t mean he will win the state convention, said Hullinghorst. She predicts the delegate count will be much closer to a 50-50 split. “It’s proportional based on delegates who show up and vote.”

Delegates are assigned at the caucuses, but must also be assigned at the Party’s county conventions, congressional district assemblies and then at the state convention.

“If [Sanders delegates] didn’t show up” at the county or congressional district conventions or didn’t stay late enough to make sure their votes were counted, “they don’t have a right to say ‘Just because we got this proportion at the caucuses, that’s the proportion it should be at the state convention.’

“You have to participate in the process all the way through,” she said. “If you don’t have the delegates to reflect your proportion, it isn’t anyone else’s fault but yours.”

Hullinghorst added that she supports Sanders being in the race and that his candidacy has added to the debate.

“I just wish his followers were more in tune with the process,” she said.

But Sanders delegates, including Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, worry the process will not be as transparent as it should be, nodding to the Republican Party’s state convention fiasco in Colorado Springs.

That convention has led to a protest by supporters of GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who gripes he was shut out of the delegate hunt at the event.

Republican Party activists have shrugged off Trump’s accusations, saying his campaign failed to learn the process that would ensure his delegates would be elected at the state convention.

Salazar told The Colorado Independent that he expects the Democratic convention will be fair, that “everyone crosses their T’s and dots their I’s,” and that the convention will be transparent.

As to the state Democrats, “I don’t think the Party has been as transparent as it should be,” Salazar said. He thinks the Sanders and Clinton camps will be encouraged to put on a “Kumbaya” moment, to perform transparency and Party cohesion.

“I’m hoping everything is so transparent that we know it was done right,” said Salazar, who is most concerned about how grassroots activists will be treated by Democratic brass.

Both parties, he said, have grassroots supporters “who are tired of establishment politics and the shenanigans” that go with it.

“I anticipate the Colorado Democratic Party will act in better faith than it has in the past. If they don’t, doggone it, there will be backlash,” Salazar said.

Will Salazar support Clinton if she’s the Party’s nominee?

“She is not the nominee,” Salazar said, adding that he believes in Sanders and that he can win the national nomination.

As to Clinton, Salazar said she has some of the same transparency problems that plague the state party.  “People don’t like that [lack of transparency]. They want to enter into this process with their eyes wide open.”

Rep. Jonathan Singer of Longmont, a Sanders supporter, plans to attend the convention, although he is not a delegate. “There will be equal parts excitement, frustration and nervousness,” he said.

As long as the process is fairly explained and people understand it, the convention will avoid confusion, Singer said, adding, “None of this is simple.”

Correction 4/16/2016: This story originally stated superdelegate Rep. Jared Polis supported Sanders. This is not true. He also supports Clinton. 

Photo credit: angelune des lauriers, Creative Commons, Flickr

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About the Author

Marianne Goodland

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.


  1. Dee Bee on said:

    I was a precinct delegate in Weld County. There wasn’t much in the way of shenanigans going on Ayla the county convention as far as I could tell, but one thing was obvious, Bernie Sanders curb stomped Hillary. Friends in Denver and Boulder counties both told me the same thing. It would be an absolute travesty if they gave Clinton a “50-50” stplit.
    It would absolutely crush my faith in the system and force me to start working for a 3rd party candidate in future elections.

  2. Rory Galhoun on said:

    I attended my first caucus in Pueblo and was excited to be chosen as an alternate delegate. I tried to do some research before I went to the county convention and found practically nothing. At the convention I tried to find out what the heck was going on and got practically no help at all. Others there were in the same position. I sure didn’t feel like I was in the “party of inclusion” at the county convention and left disappointed. I went there fully committed to my candidate, and was ready to dive in and do some precinct walking for our local candidates as well, but now I’m feeling like I’m just going to sit back and watch. The entire process is obviously meant to benefit “insiders”. Perhaps the Democratic Party might want to consider these feelings that others share with me and address it so there’s more participation. They shouldn’t wonder why there’s apathy among many potential voters when we’re treated like outsiders in our own party.

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