Two Colorado Politicos Say Caucuses Are Bad For Democracy

February 23, 2016
Photo: caucus voting electionCPR/Megan Verlee
A Republican caucus in Colorado in 2010. 

If you're a registered Democrat or Republican in Colorado, you'll be able to caucus next week. But if you're unaffiliated, like a third of Coloradans, you'll have to wait until the general election. That means a lot will be decided for you -- including which Democrat Colorado supports for president.

That's a major problem says Colorado College political scientist Thomas Cronin. He's the author of the book "Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing A Purple State." He joined Curtis Hubbard, a spokesperson for Let Colorado Vote, a non-profit that aims to increase voter turnout, in a conversation with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Let Colorado Vote wants to see the state's presidential nominating process change. How?

Hubbard: "The presidential nominating process would be moved to a primary election. So caucuses, under our proposal, would continue to be used for the other purposes that they serve.
"The way that we are proposing engaging 1 million unaffiliated voters is to send out a combined primary ballot to unaffiliated voters. So just like Democratic voters have a ballot mailed to them and Republican voters have a ballot mailed to them, there would be a combined ballot mailed to the unaffiliated voter and the unaffiliated voter then would choose one of the major party primaries to participate in."
Your group wants to bring this proposal to the November ballot. Will you make it? 
Hubbard: "I am incredibly confident that we'll make the ballot and that voters will support it. I think it's important to note here, when you compare turnout in caucuses or turnout in primary elections as we have them structured, it's dropping. So the caucuses, one of the challenges is that it occurs on one night, on one day. Whereas our current elections occur over 22 days. You have evidence of how that limits participation."
Could unaffiliated voters sabotage a primary election? For instance, you vote  in the Republican primary to select a candidate that you don't think is viable in the general election?
Cronin: "That is true theoretically. Political scientists have been studying that for about 20 years in the few states that allow those kinds of things. And there's not much evidence that people go out of their way to do that. To my knowledge, there's virtually no elections that have been sabotaged with that kind of behavior."
Would voters lose something if the state's presidential nominating process was changed?
Cronin: "There is something wonderful about neighbors getting together with neighbors and bring coffee and donuts and talking issues. ...
"That beautiful picture ... doesn't really serve democracy well. It disenfranchises too many people. Students who go to school at night can't go to caucuses, people who have two jobs can't go, single parents often can't go, older people can't go to caucuses in February and March when the streets are icy. ...
"Caucuses are idealistic and heartwarming and fantastic, but you're getting five percent. Remember in 2012 in Colorado, the Republicans nominated in the caucuses Rick Santorum, rather than Mitt Romney. Like, everyone who knows Colorado politics knows that this was a Mitt Romney state not a Rick Santorum state.
"There's an old adage that people in both political parties are aware of: You can pack a caucus, but you can't pack a primary.