Pri­mary elec­tions may dis­ap­pear

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By John Frank

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

vot­ers.

“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.”

Hy­oung Chang, Den­ver Post file

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.

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