Want a presidential primary? Lawmakers vote no, for now.

Super Tuesday caucus chaos left many Coloradans begging their lawmakers to set up a presidential primary.

Two efforts to do so tanked this week, with the last bill standing killed by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 16-1454 would have allowed unaffiliated voters to join a party for just one day to participate in a presidential primary in Colorado.

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said rushing through legislation with only two days to go in the 120-day session was unnecessary, and the public would be better served by a proposal that has more time for review and debate.

A second bill, Senate Bill 16-216, which would have set up a presidential primary that allowed only voters from the two major parties to participate, never made it out of the Senate Monday.

Both party chairs, Steve House of the Colorado GOP and Rick Palacio of the Colorado Democratic Party, backed the House bill. But GOP activists opposed it, claiming the bill would end the caucus system, which they favored keeping.

“We have time in the legislature to do something in the coming years,” said Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, who sponsored the House version. The next presidential election to which the measure would apply wouldn’t take place until 2020. But Guzman also said the process of rushing it through with bipartisan support only to have it killed by the State Affairs committee was upsetting.

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster, a Democrat who sits on the State Affairs committee, pointed out that he had sponsored a similar bill last year that died in the same committee. Had that bill passed, voters could have avoided being disenfranchised during the March 1 caucuses, he said.

RELATED: Unexpected turnout throws Boulder caucus into chaos

What happened on March 1 was not right, according to Sen. Matt Jones, a Democrat from Louisville. “I like caucuses, but we’ve outgrown them” for the presidential race.

Jones said he favored the House version, and was hopeful there would have been an agreement on the measure.

Ulibarri said lawmakers have 245 days away from the Capitol to discuss the issue with constituents and figure out a solution for next year.

And on that point, there was bipartisan agreement, of sorts. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican who also sits on the committee, said the legislature rarely creates good public policy by rushing through proposals in the waning days of the session.

“It’s appropriate to have these conversations early on,” Sonnenberg said. “We have four years to get it right.”

Guzman accused Senate Republicans of failing the people of Colorado, and noted both major parties, the Secretary of State and the state’s County Clerk’s Association all supported the measure.


Photo credit: Futundbeidl, Creative Commons, Flickr

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. A poorly run caucus may be frustrating, but ours ran well and was exhilarating. Let’s fix the caucus instead of abandoning it.

  2. Can you explain this following email sent by Senate Republicans who excluded Democratic Senators in this interim study committee to devise a primary election bill? As follows from Sean Paige:
    The demise of two presidential primary bills late in the 2016 session didn’t signal the end but the beginning of a statewide debate about the future look of Colorado elections, according to a group of Senate Republicans who have formed a working group to keep the dialogue going between sessions.

    The Colorado Elections Study Group already has announced its first meeting, to be held Saturday, June 11, between 1:00 and 3:00 pm in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers.

    The group’s founding members are Senators Laura Woods (R-Arvada), Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City) and Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud).

    Lundberg, the Assistant Majority Leader in the Senate, authored one of the two bills that fell along the wayside as the session drew to a close. “Rather than looking at these two failed bills as a defeat, I think voters scored a victory by getting us all thinking and talking about what the presidential primary might look like in 4 years,” said Scott.

    The group has a decidedly Republican look initially but founders urge the participation of all interested parties, including Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Unaffiliateds, etc.

    “One positive thing we learned from this session, despite the failure of both primary bills, is that there’s broad interest across Colorado in creating an election system that correctly balances the needs of a changing electorate, which spans the spectrum from major party stalwarts to independents,” Woods said in announcing the group’s formation and first meeting.

    “Our experience with the primary bills showed that finding consensus on this topic isn’t easy, given the wide array of opinions and interests involved, but we think more progress can be made free from the deadline pressures that cut short this year’s debate,” added Grantham.

    Please contact Sean Paige at 719-337-0355 with any questions.

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