Primary elections may disappear
The Colorado Republican Party is considering whether to cancel the June 2018 primary elections for Congress, the governor’s office and other offices, and instead nominate candidates through an existing caucus process dominated by insiders.
The move is permitted under Proposition 108, a ballot question approved in 2016 that overhauled how major-party candidates are selected in Colorado and allows the state’s 1.4 million unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in either the Republican or Democratic primaries.
A caveat in the new law allows political parties to opt out of the new law by a 75 percent vote of its central committee.
Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays told The Denver Post he will discuss the question Friday, when the party’s executive leadership meets and plans to put the question to a formal vote at the party’s Sept. 23 gathering.
The moment is reminiscent of when the Colorado GOP voted to cancel the presidential straw poll at the 2016 caucus, a move that then-candidate Donald Trump suggested led to a rigged system led by insiders. And if approved, the move would bring about an upheaval of the state’s political landscape.
Hays strongly opposes canceling the primary and expects the question to fail, but he called the vote “the right thing to do.”
“We have a certain percentage of our central committee that wants it to be under the party’s purview for how we decide to get our candidates on the ballot,” he said. “They don’t necessarily like the idea of unaffiliated voters being able to select their candidates or the party’s nominee. But it’s a small percentage.”
The Colorado Democratic Party considers the question so ridiculous, it’s not even considering a vote on the issue — suggesting it could send the wrong message to
“We never had anyone even request that we consider to opt out. That’s how inconceivable it is … to cancel an election,” said Democratic chairwoman Morgan Carroll.
Republican Party leaders share that concern. Given the Democratic Party’s decision, said Jake Viano, the Denver GOP chairman, “it would be political suicide for the Republican Party to opt out.”
“It would be used as a bludgeon against us by the liberals and spun to say the Republican Party is not interested in the will of the people and is not interested in democracy and wants to simply do what they want to do,” he said. “The only way that opting out would work is if it were done by both parties.”
In Colorado, a candidate receives a major party’s nomination by winning the most votes in the June 26 primary, which is open to unaffiliated voters for the first time in 2018. To appear on the ballot, the candidate must either collect enough voter signatures to qualify or win the nod from party activists through the caucus and assembly process.
The caucus system is a time-intensive exercise that starts with neighborhood meetings, where delegates loyal to particular candidates are selected. It typically attracts only the most die-hard activists. In 2016, 60,000 of the more than 1 million registered Republican voters participated in the caucus.
But Ben Nicholas, a central committee member from Adams County, argues that the caucus sys- tem is the only way to “select a candidate who will adhere to the party platform and our conservative principles.”
“I just think it’s going to be destructive to the party,” Nicholas said in an interview, referring to the open-primary system.
He began circulating a petition Thursday to demand a vote to opt out of the primary election. In the email, he likened allowing un-affiliated voters to cast ballots in the GOP primary to “allowing the New England Patriot fans to have a say in who the Broncos starting quarterback should be.”
He rejects the argument that the move would repulse voters, reiterating that “we open our doors to anybody who wishes to join the Republican Party.”
The state GOP waged a proxy fight on the question earlier this year in the race for party chairman. Hays campaigned against canceling the primary, but his opponent supported the opt-out effort.
Hays said his victory gives him confidence that the party’s leaders will not opt out of the primary vote.
“I look at Proposition 108 and the inclusion of unaffiliated voters in the process as an opportunity, not a crisis,” he said. “You have to win them in the general election anyway, and it gives us a great opportunity to get to know them better, to listen to them more deeply and to understand what their concerns are.”
He also pointed to the decision to cancel the presidential straw poll in 2016 as a lesson learned: “You don’t want people to think the decisions are being made behind closed doors that affect a large number of Republicans, and this certainly does.”
A proposal before the Colorado Republican Party would limit candidate selection in 2018 races to caucuses — similar to this 2012 gathering in Lakewood — and shut out unaffiliated voters.