Colorado GOP Cancels 2016 Presidential Caucus Vote

August 25, 2015
Photo: 2012 GOP caucus (AP Photo)
Precinct chairman Ron Kocsis takes a count of 'yes' voters during a Republican caucus meeting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012.

The Colorado Republican Party has traded its prominent standing in the early stages of the presidential nomination process for the ability of its delegates to support the candidate of their choice later on.

The party voted last week to cancel the presidential preference poll scheduled for the precinct caucuses in February or March. The move, first reported by the Denver Post, comes after the national GOP amended its rules to require a state's delegates support the candidate that wins a straw poll -- even if the candidate were to drop out of the race by the 2016 Republican National Convention. 

“No one wants to see their vote cast for an empty chair, especially not on a stage as big as the national convention’s," Chairman Steve House said in a press release.

House said the party is ditching the straw poll because many voters thought it was a primary. Caucuses differ from primaries in a key way. In states that still use the caucus system, participants openly select delegates who then go to the national convention. In primary states, voters cast secret ballots directly for their candidate of choice. Those results then determine the delegates that go to the national convention.

In 2008 and 2012, the Colorado GOP tried to split the difference by running presidential straw polls at its precinct caucuses. They were non-binding -- and also got the party into some trouble. Former state party chair Ryan Call said they received "literally hundreds of phone calls" from confused voters after the 2012 caucus. 

"They spent two or three hours at a caucus meeting to cast a vote, only to find out the very next day that or in the subsequent weeks that the straw poll vote was just that -- a straw poll vote that didn't really matter," Call said. "It created a lot of bad feelings." 

While the straw polls are going away, precinct caucus-goers will still elect delegates. That delegate pool will be culled down at the state party's convention in April 2016; the remaining group will be sent to the national convention. Whether those delegates will carry much weight by time they are chosen in April comes down to how tight the nomination process is by that point in the campaign, said former Colorado GOP chair Dick Wadhams.

"If the nominee is still in doubt in April, then we're going to get a lot of attention," he said. "If we have a nominee, then we won't get any attention. It's kind of a trade off." 

The Legislature has balked at moving to a primary. Current party chair House said there's still a nostalgia for the caucus system.

"There's that long tradition of bringing people together once a year in an almost romantic political setting, if there is such a thing," he said. "It's been that way for a long, long time here."

CPR's Megan Verlee contributed to this report.