Parties urge move to presidential primary in Colorado

Last time Colorado held costly election was 2000

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Colorado Democrats and Republicans have tentatively agreed to push for changing the state's system of choosing presidential candidates to a primary election, instead of a caucus.

The agreement came after a raucous caucus night March 1 in which party faithful in both camps complained about the current system of thousands of precinct meetings to start choosing presidential candidates.

Democratic caucuses across the state were filled to capacity, with some leaving rather than wait in long lines. Some Republicans were voting with their feet, too, angry that the precinct caucuses didn't include a presidential straw poll.

State GOP chairman Steve House told The Associated Press March 2 that he and the head of the state Democratic Party have agreed to push for a presidential primary vote in 2020 to allow more people to participate.

“We've got to do something different to involve more people because it's our country we're talking about here,” House said.

He said his Democratic counterpart, Rick Palacio, agreed.

Some party power brokers say the current system of thousands of neighborhood precinct meetings facilitates neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and favors grassroots ideas over TV campaigns typical of the general election.

But many average party members disagreed this week.

“To me it's very questionable,” said Doug Schuck, a Republican caucus-goer from Cherry Hills Village who wanted to vote for presidential candidate Donald Trump, only to find out the state party would let the presidential decision be made by the 37 Coloradans chosen to attend the national GOP convention in August.

“To not be able to cast a vote is disappointing. It means they're only going to hear from a few people, the insiders they want to hear from,” Schuck said.

Democrats had angry voters, too. Some caucuses were so packed that hundreds were turned away. A caucus in Fort Collins was so crowded that attendees took to a patch of trees outside to discuss the presidential race.

“I felt it was a little difficult, in fact, to try to get everyone in at the same time, to ensure everyone got to speak and be heard,” said Toby Dattilo, 41, a Democrat attending her first-ever caucus meeting in Centennial.

Anger stoked the talk of reviving a presidential preference primary. Colorado held presidential primaries in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections, then abandoned the idea as too expensive.

The Legislature last year voted down a proposal to bring back primaries, an idea with an estimated price tag of $3 million to $4 million.(The political parties bear the cost of holding caucuses; the state would be responsible for running a primary election.)

The Democrat who floated the primary idea says he's going to try again. State Rep. Dominick Moreno said March 2 that he thinks widespread discontent with the previous day's caucuses should spark lawmakers to take a closer look.

“The caucuses were a hot mess,” Moreno said. “A primary, it obviously will cost money, but will also allow more people to participate in the process.”

However, the caucus system has ardent fans among party activists.

“To me, that is so important, to get your neighbors involved,” said state Rep. Perry Buck, a Greeley Republican and former chairwoman of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women.

And a proposed ballot measure to ask voters about a presidential primary was rejected by nonpartisan legislative staff because it also would have allowed unaffiliated voters to participate, making the proposal overbroad.

House said he wants to see lawmakers act on a primary proposal this year, rather than waiting until closer to the 2020 contest.

“There's a sense of urgency on the part of both parties to get something done this session,” House said.

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