Your guide to Colorado’s 2020 primaries and caucuses

The primaries are fast approaching, and yes, Colorado still has caucuses coming up, too

Colorado's presidential primaries take place on Super Tuesday, March 3, but caucuses for U.S. Senate and other races are on March 7. Pictured: Over 3,200 delegates cast their votes for candidates for statewide office during the Democratic state assembly at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)
Colorado's presidential primaries take place on Super Tuesday, March 3, but caucuses for U.S. Senate and other races are on March 7. Pictured: Over 3,200 delegates cast their votes for candidates for statewide office during the Democratic state assembly at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)

If you haven’t already received your ballot for Colorado’s March 3 presidential primary, it’s coming any day now and there’s a few things you should know. 

Your ballot marks a return— after two decades of caucusing — to the statewide primary process for selecting a nominee. It’s also the first time that Colorado’s 3.4 million active voters are using mail-in ballots for a presidential primary.  

Caucusing hasn’t entirely gone away. The party faithful and fervent still will gather on March 7 in libraries, school gyms and cafeterias to begin the nomination process for the U.S. Senate race and other down-ballot contests. June brings the primaries for those races.

We know. It can be confusing. So, here’s a quick guide to the upcoming primaries and the caucuses and you can always check with the Secretary of State’s Office for FAQs.

Who can vote in the March 3 primary?

Everyone who is registered can vote, including unaffiliated voters, which is a big deal since unaffiliated voters can’t participate in caucuses unless they become a member of either major party. The number of unaffiliated voters in the state surpassed registered Democrats and Republicans in 2008, and continues to grow. Since 2017, 57% of newly registered voters were unaffiliated, according to an analysis by Magellan Strategies, and they now make up about 40% of the voting bloc. 

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll, speaking at a press conference earlier this week, said the change allowing unaffiliated voters to participate this year will probably lead to more people participating earlier in the process. 

“I think the earlier people get invested, the more likely they are to actually go on and vote in the general election itself,” Carroll said. “So, if people feel like they have a say in who is on the ballot, they are more likely to vote the final ballot.”

If you are registered with a particular party, you have to vote in that party’s primary. Unaffiliated voters will be receiving a ballot from each party, but can only vote in one primary. We’ll say that again: if you are unaffiliated, you’ll get two ballots, one for the Democratic choices and one for the Republican. Choose one primary. If you return both ballots, your vote will be tossed out.

If you are not yet registered to vote, you can register as late as March 3 and vote that same day. And, in a couple of other big changes this year: people who are 17, but will turn 18 by Nov. 3, 2020, can vote in primaries and caucuses. Also, those with felony convictions who are on parole can vote, but not if they are currently incarcerated.

Denver added four new drop boxes for ballots this year, a total of 37, and Denver voters can go to DenverVotes.org/VoterInfo to find a drop box location. Voters outside of Denver can go to http://justvotecolorado.org/ to find drop box locations. Voters in the state have until 7 p.m. on March 3 to either turn in their ballots or for their mail-in ballots to arrive. So, if you’re planning on mailing in your ballot, send it in by Feb. 24 at the latest. 

So, will we know on March 3 who “won” Colorado?

Not necessarily. As John Frank of The Colorado Sun recently reported, the mail-in ballot process has some built-in issues that can delay final results (provisional, overseas and military ballots can hold things up), though we should have a good idea who won the popular vote and the bragging rights that come with it. But the way our state determines who won is not as simple as who takes the statewide vote. The key to winning Colorado lies in winning a majority of its 67 delegates. The share of delegates is tied to the share of the vote, and that proportion is based both on the overall statewide vote and on the share of votes in each of the state’s seven congressional districts.

Candidates must break 15% of the vote to win delegates at each level. In practice, that means a candidate who breaks 15% in one district, but not statewide, would still receive some delegates from that one district.

And then there are what was once known as superdelegates. In the past these party bigwigs and elected officials could vote for whichever candidate they wanted despite the results of their state’s popular vote (and in 2016 all of Colorado’s went for Hillary Clinton even though Bernie Sanders dominated the caucus vote). They no longer hold such power, and this time around, the renamed “automatic delegates” will only be able to vote if none of the candidates who make it to the national convention break the threshold for nomination — which is rare.  

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office will begin reporting the results of the statewide popular vote on election night. Then, Carroll said, the Democratic Party will begin reporting the delegate results on its website starting March 4. Colorado officials don’t have to report the official results until March 12, nine days after the primary.

The Republican primary is an almost guaranteed victory for President Trump — an incumbent has never lost a modern presidential primary — so the delegate math doesn’t really matter on the Republican side. Still, there are six names on the Republican’s primary ballot.

On the Democratic side, 17 candidates made the primary ballot, but many have already dropped out of the race, which may be an argument for patience in casting your vote. The field is still being winnowed. Just last night, Andrew Yang and Colorado’s Michael Bennet dropped out. Still more candidates are likely to be peeled off after the Nevada and South Carolina contests.

So what about the caucuses and U.S. Senate race?

For the U.S. Senate and other state races, the process of determining who is on the ballot starts when registered Democrats and Republicans go to their respective local caucuses on March 7. Caucus-goers don’t actually get to directly vote for their preferred candidate on caucus day. Instead, caucus-goers elect delegates, who will move on to each party’s larger assemblies where candidates for the ballot will be decided. Each party also uses the caucuses to start the process of setting the party’s platform moving forward. Those pushing to become delegates can evangelize for particular candidates or for themselves as committed party members. 

At the state assembly and conventions on April 18, Democratic delegates will cast ballots determining who makes the primary ballot.  On the GOP side, where there is little drama, incumbent Cory Gardner will win the Republican nomination, barring an extraordinary circumstance.

The winner of the June 30 Democratic primary will face Gardner in November. 

Do the Senate candidates have to go through the assembly process to get on the ballot? 

No. Candidates can either go through the caucus and assembly process or gather enough petition signatures to get on the ballot. Or they can do both.

For both major parties, candidates who go the petition route must gather 1,500 signatures to be placed on the ballot, while third-party candidates need 1,000. (You must be registered as a party member to sign a candidate petition.)

Democratic candidates will need to gather at least 30% of the votes from the delegates at the state assembly to win a spot on the June 30 primary ballot. The candidate with the most delegate votes will be placed at the top of the ballot. 

Going through both the ballot and assembly process could prove risky. In that situation, candidates must break 10% of the vote at their party’s assembly to get on the ballot, even if they gathered enough signatures. 

Who’s running? 

So far, 10 candidates are still in the race for the Democratic Senate primary. Here’s a complete list and each of the candidates’ stated method of getting on the ballot. 

Petition:

Assembly:

Both: 

How can I vote? 

For caucuses, voters must be registered with their preferred party with the Secretary of State’s office by Friday, Feb. 14. For primaries, an unregistered voter has until March 3 to register as either unaffiliated or with their preferred party. The deadline has passed for voters who wanted to switch their party affiliation and still be able to vote. 

Voters should make sure their address is current because caucus precincts are based on home addresses. Voters must caucus at the correct precinct. 

Voters can find their precincts at www.GoVoteColorado.com.

Republicans can find their precinct location at caucus.cologop.org.

Democrats can find their precinct location at www.coloradodems.org/2020-caucus-locations

The caucuses for both parties is on March 7, but the Republicans start at 10 a.m. and the Democrats start at 2 p.m. Voters should arrive 30 minutes early. 

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