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Political caucuses have come under renewed criticism since the chaotic Democratic caucuses in Iowa earlier this month, but Coloradans have no reason for concern, state party and election leaders say.

Democratic and GOP caucus meetings are set to take place across Colorado on March 7, but the process will be much different than in Iowa, where it took days to sort out the results on the Democratic side. For one thing, caucus-goers here won’t be choosing presidential nominees. Registered voters will do that via ballots that are already being sent out.

Also, the parties won’t be using an app to report caucus results — technology that took the blame for the failures in Iowa.

“We really prioritize cyber-security in all of our election support systems,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said.

State Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll cautioned voters that Coloradans may not know who the state’s popular pick for the Democratic nominee is on Election Night. County elections officials never finish counting the same day, she said, but it often isn’t close enough to matter. With so many candidates on the ballot and no clear-cut leader so far, the margins might be close.

If the lead changes — even after March 3 — it’s because the party is updating the information to current vote totals, “and nothing weird or nefarious is happening,” Carroll said.

A presidential primary

This is the first time in two decades Colorado will not use caucuses to select presidential candidates. In 2016, voters became angry when the state Republican Party decided not to let caucus-goers weigh in on the presidential candidates, instead having them select delegates who weren’t pledged to particular candidates.

Mail-in ballots for the presidential primary started going out to Colorado Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters last week, and they are due by 7 p.m. on March 3.

The Colorado Democratic Party and the Colorado GOP will use the results to determine how many delegates to send to the national conventions for each candidate. The Democratic convention begins July 13, and the Republicans will meet Aug. 24.

For any Democratic candidate to receive a delegate, he or she has to receive at least 15% of the vote. For Republicans, it’s 20%.

On the Republican side, no candidate other than incumbent President Donald Trump is likely to earn delegates. But for the Democrats, the numbers make more of a difference.

The Democrats have made another change this year on the presidential selection process. Colorado sends 79 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and the dozen automatic delegates now can only vote in contested nominations when multiple ballots have to be taken to select a nominee. These delegates, formerly called super-delegates and mainly party insiders, previously could vote for whomever they wanted, and in 2016, they did that in Colorado, voting for Hillary Clinton even though Bernie Sanders won the caucus vote.

So how do Colorado’s caucuses work?

Candidates for every office except president — such as state representative, district attorney and congressman — must either collect signatures or go through caucus and assembly to get on the June 30 primary ballot.

“There was a huge political backlash in 2016 against the caucus system, and many people, when they voted to approve Proposition 106, they thought they eliminated caucuses entirely,” Carroll said. “But they didn’t.”

The parties have a combined 3,133 precinct caucuses statewide, and each will choose precinct chairs to run the caucuses on March 7. Republicans will start at 10 a.m. and Democrats at 2 p.m.

“For a voting public who may not always love the choices they have on the ballot and if anyone has ever wanted to have a say on who appears on the primary ballot in the first place, they really should be going to caucus or assembly because those are smaller, but they have very big impact on the votes they have to decide who actually shows up on the ballot,” Carroll said.

The caucus process is sometimes confusing, but basically, those who participate elect delegates who get to decide which of the non-presidential candidates go on to the next step of their elections.

“I think there’s a long tradition of holding caucuses in Colorado, and it’s a way for the community to come together and meet other like-minded folks,” Colorado GOP Executive Director Lx Fangonilo said. “It’s also to set the future of the party.”

Both political parties will decide party platforms and propose resolutions for the state and national conventions.

To participate in a caucus, voters needed to be affiliated with a party, registered to vote and have up-to-date addresses by Feb. 14. Unaffiliated voters can’t participate in caucuses.

And voters need to remember — they can’t show up to just any caucus meeting. They can look up their precinct number at govotecolorado.com, and they find their caucus meeting location and pre-register on their party’s website: caucus.cologop.org and coloradodems.org.

Being prepared is key. Both parties encourage caucus-goers to show up at least 30 minutes early to their caucus meeting locations.

Delegates will be elected for each of Colorado’s 64 counties, and Democratic candidates have to receive 15% or more of the votes to receive a delegate from an area. The delegates go to county, district and, finally, state assemblies to make candidate selections.

At the precinct caucuses, attendees elect precinct leaders as well as delegates and alternates for the county or district conventions.

The Democratic Party caucuses will hold a preference poll for U.S. Senate candidates using the assembly system, in which caucus attendees can vote for their Senate candidate of choice. Candidates have to get 15% or more votes to receive county delegates. If an attendee’s candidate of choice doesn’t get at least 15% of the votes, another candidate can be selected.

Once again, this matters more for Democrats, who have 10 candidates running to unseat incumbent Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race. The Colorado GOP will not hold a preference poll for U.S. Senate, citing a lack of serious Republican challengers to Gardner.

At their respective district assemblies, delegates nominate candidates for Congress, the legislature, the University of Colorado Board of Regents and district attorneys’ offices to appear on primary ballots.

At the state assembly, delegates nominate primary candidates for statewide offices.

To get onto the primary ballot via this process, candidates have to get at least 30% support at their party’s state assembly.

Candidates’ other option is to collect signatures to petition onto the ballot. U.S. Senate candidates have to collect 1,500 valid signatures per congressional district. Other offices have different petition requirements. Candidates also have the option of attempting both routes, but if they do so and get less than 10% support at the assembly, they won’t make it onto the primary ballot even if they have enough signatures.

Both parties’ state assemblies and conventions are April 18, when the final decisions will be made for U.S. Senate candidate nominees.

The process for down-ticket races is a little different. If the seat is in one county, the selection happens at the county assembly. If it’s in multiple counties, they take place after the assembly.

Still have questions?  We have answers.



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