Colorado’s caucus-to-primary change could bring in unaffiliated voters— kind of


Lawmakers and the Secretary of State were singing kumbaya on the Capitol steps today over a legislative proposal to reinstate the presidential primary in Colorado.

But the effort still has a ways to go. And one minor hitch.

“This isn’t partisan and it’s not about any one candidate,” said Rep. Tim Dore, an Elizabeth Republican who is expected to be one of the two main backers in the House on legislation that will change the way Colorado voters choose their politicians.

The bipartisan proposal comes with quite a kick, too. For the first time, the Colorado’s largest voting bloc, unaffiliated voters, would be invited to participate. Kind of. 

“The status quo is no longer acceptable,” said Denver Democratic Rep. Dominick Moreno, another chief backer of the primary plan.

But, of course there’s a twist. In order to participate, those unaffiliated voters would have to “temporarily affiliate” in order to receive a presidential ballot. And that might not sit well with some of those independent-minded voters.

The idea was to have unaffiliated voters sign on with a major party just long enough so that county clerks could determine which party’s ballot to send them, according to Colorado’s Republican Secretary of State, Wayne Williams.

But that “temporary affiliation” might not be so temporary, WIlliams explained during a news conference today. In order for the elections to have integrity, the state’s voter registration system has to keep a record of those who vote and under which party, even if it’s for one presidential primary, he said.

The proposal won’t change Colorado’s caucus process, which drew heavy criticism in March from both major political parties. Democrats complained their caucus-goers weren’t prepared for record-breaking participation because of interest in the two major Democratic presidential candidates. Republicans howled over not being allowed to choose a presidential candidate from the four or five still in the running at the time of the caucus. That was based on a decision last August by the state GOP, which canceled its presidential straw poll after the national GOP changed its rules to say that a state’s delegates would be bound to the winner.

Under the new law, Colorado’s caucus system would, however, continue on in its other role: As a vehicle for voters to choose delegates to either party’s county and congressional district assemblies and for picking candidates for county offices.

“I wish today was April 21, 2015,” said Rep. Alec Garnett of Denver, former executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party. Garnett was referring to a bill a year ago that would have done much of the same as this year’s proposal, but that bill died on concerns about its estimated cost of $5 million.

This year’s version won’t likely be any cheaper— Williams suggests between $5 million and $7 million— but in putting together the proposal this year the state avoids the high price tag in 2016 and has a couple of years to plan for how to pay for it.

The measure has drawn strong opposition from some party activists. John Wren of Save the Caucus pointed out voters rejected the notion of going back to a presidential primary in 2002. In a statement, Wren said they expect a tougher fight to preserve the caucus system this year, “so we will use a bigger hammer: a bipartisan lobbying and education effort that will benefit Colorado citizens both now and in the future.”

The legislative effort to bring back the primary has competition: Several measures are proposed for the 2016 ballot to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in a presidential primary. 

Unlike the measure that will be introduced in the Statehouse in the coming days, unaffiliated voters would not have to declare a party preference in order to get a ballot. The ballot that would be used in those initiatives would include all presidential candidates from both political parties, as opposed to the Statehouse proposal, which would require unaffiliated voters to choose a political party in order to get a ballot that would include only that party’s candidates.

[Photo credit: Banalities via Creative Commons on Twitter]


  1. I HATE the delegate system. THAT is what is so crooked / fixed about the presidential election. I’ve hated it ever since I first voted in 1968. I was so disappointed that I cried all the time I was in the voting booth and all the way home that night. Not only had my candidate been murdered that year (Bobby Kennedy) but my faith in our voting system had been destroyed, and we ended up with NIXON!

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