Editor’s column: GOP caucuses leave average voter without voice
So you are a Republican in Colorado, a potential swing state in the November 2016 presidential election.
You’ve been thinking about the big field in one of the most competitive and important races for your party’s presidential nomination. Should you back one of the nonestablishment candidates making waves around the country — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, maybe Ted Cruz, an outsider’s insider? Or should the party stick with someone more mainstream, maybe Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, even though they are lagging in national polls? Go with a different sort of candidate — young Marco Rubio or tough-talking Carly Fiorina?
The fact is, pretty much all that a rank and file Colorado Republican can do is think about it. Your individual say has been reduced to a whisper, and you would have to commit a lot of time and effort for it to be heard.
Even though the state has a pretty early caucus date — March 1 — Republicans attending precinct caucuses that day won’t have an opportunity to express a direct preference for president.
“The average Republican voter does lose a voice” in the nominating process, said David Merritt, the Garfield County Republican chair. But, he noted, “the nonbinding straw poll four years ago was extremely irrelevant,” with Colorado winner Rick Santorum dropping out of the race well before the national convention.
State Republican leadership decided to do away with the presidential preference straw poll at this year’s party caucuses. The party will allocate delegates to the national convention July 18-21 in Cleveland through congressional district assemblies and the state party convention.
It’s a complex process whether a state has a caucus system or a primary election.
In Colorado, much as in Iowa’s earlier and more famous caucus system, precinct caucuses start that process by electing delegates to, generally, county conventions. Those local representatives — who can be anyone affiliated with the party — in turn select the delegates to the assemblies where national convention delegates will actually be elected.
Ryan Lynch, executive director of the Colorado Republican Committee, told me that national party rules made it even more complicated this time around by requiring that delegates be bound to candidates based on straw poll results.
The state executive committee “didn’t want delegates to be bound to a candidate March 1 who might not be there in July,” he said.
This argument is mildly hollow because candidates who drop out typically release their delegates before the national convention, as Santorum did in 2012. Next year, it might be less certain that a candidate will have locked up enough delegates to win the GOP nomination going into the national convention, and perhaps even less sure that a candidate like Donald Trump would follow norms and release delegates if he weren’t the leader.
What would Lynch tell the average Colorado Republican about not having a voice in the nominating process?
“You can be part of the body that chooses national delegates,” he said, by running to be a county delegate, then a state convention or congressional district delegate. Of course that’s going to require attending two or three events, requiring more time, money and understanding of the system than most people have.
The process Colorado Republicans are following without a doubt gives more control to party insiders, blunting the grass-roots popularity of an insurgent campaign.
It’s much more work to participate in a caucus than a primary. Caucuses, which are internal party organizing events, are for those motivated to be activists, at least for that year. One of the criticisms of Iowa’s system, which I watched more closely than is healthy during my 18 years as an editor at the Des Moines Register, is that it amplifies the extremes of both parties because those are the voters motivated to turn out.
Unaffiliated voters outnumber either registered Republicans or Democrats, so caucuses in particular exclude those more in the political middle and tend to not reflect the perspective of the electorate as a whole. (Note: Colorado Democrats will hold a presidential preference poll at their caucuses.)
If you want to get involved, any registered voter can participate in a Colorado precinct caucus. To do so, you must be registered to vote and must be affiliated with a party by Jan. 4. You can register and switch your party affiliation easily at the Secretary of State’s website, govotecolorado.com.
Merritt urges Republicans to participate, noting that the caucuses are important party events that help shape local races.
“It would be nice if we could vote if it were meaningful” in the nominating process, Merritt said, but that’s not the case now.
Garfield County Republicans will caucus at 7 p.m. March 1 at five locations: the Battlement Mesa and Glenwood Springs community centers; county offices at the fairgrounds in Rifle; and at Coal Ridge and Roaring Fork high schools.
For information, visit http://garfieldcountyrepublicans.com/resources/caucus-process/ (which contains a typo indicating that the caucuses are March 4; they are March 1).
For information about Democratic caucuses in Garfield County, visit http://www.garfieldcountydemocrats.org, which lacks information about caucusing, but contains contact details.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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