The voting is underway! Since my last blog post, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton won the Iowa caucuses, and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary. We might be in store for a real donnybrook.
Nevada Democrats went for Clinton and South Carolina Republicans voted for Trump, with Nevada Republicans and South Carolina Democrats yet to voice their choices. Then on March 1 comes Super Tuesday. Thirteen states will vote that day, including Colorado.
Colorado is a Caucus State.
In Colorado, we have caucuses rather than a primary. A precinct caucus is a meeting of the members of a political party from a given neighborhood. To participate in a party’s caucus, you must be registered to vote as a party member.
If you want to attend a caucus, here’s how. But hang on, it’s a bit complicated. I will describe the process for Larimer County; for other counties, it should be very similar.
Where’s my Caucus?
First you will need to find your precinct number. To find this, go to the Larimer County Elections page. Then click on “Check Your Registration.” This will take you the state website where you type in your name, zip code, and birthday. The next screen will show your voter registration information. Look under District Information and find the line that says Precinct. It will give you a ten-digit number. The last three digits of that number is your precinct number.
OK, still with me? Once you have the number, go to your party’s website. The websites are www.larimerdems.org and www.larimergop.org. (Smaller parties like Greens or Libertarians usually make their decisions at a state-level meeting.) The party’s website will list the location of your caucus. Both parties’ caucuses begin at 6:30 p.m.
What Happens at a Caucus?
Caucus attendees carry out party business, conduct polls or votes on significant electoral races, elect delegates to the county-wide party convention, and consider and vote on resolutions. Depending on how well the parties have organized, you might have to wait in a substantial line to check in. Then prepare to spend the whole evening. Yes, things can get a bit chaotic, but it can be a very interesting few hours.
What most people are interested in this year is the presidential vote. Caucus attendees will vote among the party candidates for president. The results are then tallied and reported to the state party, which then announces which candidate has won the poll statewide. A state’s delegates to the national convention will reflect these results.
And Colorado Republicans Vote for … Not.
Republicans, however, may be disappointed because the state party decided not to conduct a presidential vote this year at the precinct caucuses. The reasons are complicated. Basically, new national party rules dictate that the delegates elected to the county and state party conventions must stay committed or “bound” to the candidate they originally supported at their caucuses. The state party wanted more flexibility in how delegates could vote at subsequent party meetings and so called off the caucus voting. Nationwide, the Colorado GOP is the only state party doing this.
Caucuses Choose Delegates.
The caucus attendees also elect a group of delegates to attend the county party convention. In Larimer County, the Democrats will have their county convention on Saturday, March 12, and the GOP will meet on March 19. The number of delegates depends on the size of your precinct. For the Democrats, these delegates will be selected from the preference groups in proportion to the support they receive. For instance, my precinct is relatively large, and we elect 11 delegates to our county convention. If the vote is close between Sanders and Clinton, we might send 6 for Clinton and 5 for Sanders.
Anyone can be a delegate; most times, delegates are not really elected—they volunteer. It often comes down to who can attend the county convention. And often parties will encourage younger people to become delegates to promote more diversity.
Step by Step.
The county party conventions will elect delegates to the state party conventions, and the state party conventions will elect delegates to the national party conventions in July. In theory, one could aspire to be a national delegate, which is very prestigious. Although the national delegates elected are usually long-time party activists, anybody can be elected, and again, the parties often give special preference to younger people.
Participating in a caucus takes more time, energy, and initiative than voting in a primary. But it can be a great opportunity to get to know your neighbors and practice some grassroots democracy.