Sopris Sun Staff Report
Carbondale-area voters undoubtedly realize that 2016 is a national election year, but what some may not realize is that Colorado’s historical devotion to its caucus system means the time is here for interested residents to learn about and get involved in their party caucus meetings if they want to be active in party politics for the 2016 election.
Carbondale Democrats (Precincts 1-4) will caucus at Carbondale Middle School on March 1, with registration at 6:30 p.m. and caucusing itself at 7 p.m.
Carbondale Republicans will caucus at Roaring Fork High School on March 1, with registration starting at 6 p.m. and the caucus itself at 7 p.m.
Colorado, like 15 other states, uses the caucus system to select delegates to county, district, state and national political conventions, and perform other party functions.
Under Colorado’s caucus system, voters in different precincts typically find themselves lumped in with residents living in other nearby precincts, mostly centered around municipalities.
Garfield County contains 27 precincts, centered around the towns of Carbondale (5), Glenwood Springs (6), New Castle (4), Silt (3), Rifle (5) and Parachute (4).
In some cases precincts covering large territories actually are listed on different precinct maps (available at the Garfield County website garfield-county.com/clerk-recorder), such as precinct 5 that shows up on maps for Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, and precinct 18, which appears on the maps for both New Castle and Silt.
The caucus gatherings in Garfield County are normally located in one of the six towns and involve residents in multiple precincts. They can be found through the party websites (www.garfieldcountyrepublicans.com and www.garfieldcountydemocrats.org).
As described on the website maintained by the Colorado Democratic Party, “Caucuses are fundamentally neighborhood meetings. You gather at the location designated for your precinct … vote for your preferred [presidential] candidate and elect delegates to your county Convention and Assembly.”
But where Democrats will be taking part in “presidential preference polls” at their caucus meetings, Republicans will not.
That is because the state Republican Party voted to eliminate the traditional “binding presidential preference poll” for the current election cycle.
Garfield County Republican Party Chairman Dave Merritt noted that in the last two rounds of caucus meeting, in 2008 and 2012, the presidential preference polls were “kind of like a beauty contest; your vote means nothing at all except in the end, if your candidate wins, you can tell your buddies you were right.”
He said that in both cases, the candidates picked by Colorado Republicans did not end up on a national presidential ticket.
And this year, he said, the same could easily happen due to the wide field of Republican candidates running for president.
So, he said, if Donald Trump were picked by Colorado voters in a binding preference poll, and then quit the race, those delegates would still be bound to vote for Trump in the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Instead, according to an article on the state GOP website, “Colorado’s delegates to the 2016 RNC will be unbound,” which state GOP party chair Steve House said, “means the delegates we send to the national convention will be free to choose the candidate they feel can best put America back on a path to prosperity and security.”
Garfield County Democrats, on the other hand, will conduct the “presidential preference poll” as usual at the caucus meetings, which in turn will affect who is chosen as delegates to the county convention and county assembly — two distinct gatherings that are held on the same day.
The convention’s purpose is to allow precinct attendees to nominate candidates for the presidential contest; the assembly is used for all other nominations, such as for the U.S. Senate, the Colorado state house, county commissioners and others.
County conventions and assemblies for the Democrats are to be held no later than March 26.
To be eligible to take part in the caucus meetings, you must be a resident of your precinct for at least 30 days prior to the caucus, be registered to vote no later than 29 days prior to the caucus, and be affiliated with one or the other party at least two months before the caucus.
It is a complex system, one that has been called “byzantine” by observers who are critical of this way of managing political elections.
But that is how it is done in Colorado.
To learn more about such things as which precinct a voter lives in, or where the caucuses, conventions and assemblies are to be held, or any other information, voters can check with the Colorado Secretary of State (type in “voter information”), look on the websites of the two parties or call the two party chairs for Garfield County — Democrat Bob Shively at 970-618-1509 or Republican David Merritt at 970-379-7064.
Published in The Sopris Sun on February 18, 2016.