Colorado caucus ruckus " how it works | AspenTimes.com

Colorado caucus ruckus " how it works

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

PITKIN COUNTY ” Even political junkies get confused at this time every couple of years, as Colorado gets ready to do its part in choosing its elected representatives, from local offices to the president of the United States.

It is a complicated system, rife with uncertainty about exactly when caucuses, assemblies or conventions will take place, and made mysterious by a combination of voter apathy and inexpert party management.

One local Republican party official told The Aspen Times last week that, in the wake of the recent Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, she was approached by a young man who asked, “So, Colorado’s caucuses are coming up, where do I go to vote?”

This, then, is a condensed look at the system that this state uses in its selection of candidates and other political machinations. Complete information is available from the political parties themselves.

Colorado’s two main parties, Democrats and Republicans, meet on Feb. 5 for the 2008 precinct caucuses, to choose delegates for later nominating assemblies and begin the process of picking the candidates whose names will appear on the state’s primary ballot in August.

Each precinct caucus meeting also calls for election of a precinct chair and secretary who will serve for two years, as well as the introduction of issues proposed for the state party platforms.

Just for the record, the Colorado caucuses are nothing like the recently held Iowa caucuses, and local advisory caucus organizations, such as Woody Creek and the Castle-Maroon Creeks, have nothing to do with the partisan politics caucus system.

The deadline for registering with one party or the other, which is necessary to take part in the caucuses, passed on Dec. 5, 2007. But local party officials noted that the caucus meetings are open to everyone and represent a good chance to learn about the political process at its most basic level.

On Feb. 5, Democrats and Republicans will caucus at two locations in Pitkin County ” the Rio Grande meeting room (former Aspen Youth Center) for Democrats and the Aspen Square conference center for Republicans.

The agenda at caucus meetings in Colorado, for either party, deals with internal procedural matters as well as the broader political issues and candidacies.

In prior election years, the caucuses have been held approximately a month and a half later, in March or April, but this year both major parties elected to move up the dates in order to have a greater impact on the 2008 presidential contest.

According to the Democrat party website, precinct chairpersons are being directed to conduct a presidential “preference poll” as the “first order of business” after election of the officers. The results of that poll are to be transmitted to the county chair of the party, who is to pass on that information to the state party hierarchy and the media by 9:30 p.m. that night.

Pitkin County Republican chairwoman Linda McCausland said there is no such formal plan in place for the Republican caucuses, although a similar presidential preference poll is likely to be held.

Caucus participants also are charged with discussing issues that might be included in the party platforms at the county, district, state and national conventions, and with forwarding the names of candidates for local, state assembly and national congressional offices.

The official nomination process is to take place at the county assemblies and conventions, which for both parties is loosely scheduled between Feb. 20 and March 16, followed by successive assemblies for everything from judicial districts (judges and district attorneys) to U.S. Congress districts and state general assembly contests.

All of this political activity will culminate, at lest in regional terms, in the state conventions ” May 17 in Colorado Springs for the Democrats, May 31 in Broomfield for the Republicans.

Following that, Colorado will hold its primary election on Aug. 12, for judicial, state and national positions but not for the presidency.

After that, both parties will hold their national conventions, the Democrats in Denver in late August and the Republicans in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., in early September.

The national general election is scheduled for Nov. 4.

In explaining the Colorado system, political writers have taken the broad historical perspective as their guide.

“The Precinct Caucus is a system that only 20 states in the US currently employ, and according to Democratic Chair Waak, it’s one of the few remaining ways to see the democratic process in action from the grass-roots up,” wrote political writer Lance Vaillancourt in the Colorado Daily in December. “The process came out of then-President Teddy Roosevelt’s reforms in 1912, and creates a neighborhood forum for members of a particular party to support and nominate the candidates they want to see on the Primary Election ballot.”

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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