Caucus? Primary? A Voters' Guide to Colorado's Elections.
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Caucus? Primary? A Voters' Guide to Colorado's Elections.

In a few weeks, Colorado will host its first set of caucuses, followed by open primaries this summer and a general election in the fall.

Wait, what?

If you're confused, don't worry: You're not alone. The nomination process in Colorado has always been complicated, and thanks to a host of laws passed in late 2016, voting in this state is now about as easy to understand as the tax code. In a few short weeks, the first party caucuses will take place, setting off a crowded political calendar that will ultimately lead to a new governor, secretary of state, Colorado treasurer and attorney general; as well as the election of 82 state lawmakers (some new, some not), and the seating of seven Colorado members of the House of Representatives (maybe some new).

Here's how to elect your candidates.

1. March 6 precinct caucuses

Let's start with the basics: A caucus is, simply, a political community gathering, and the March 6 caucuses are being held at the precinct level, which is the smallest subset of a county. The idea here is for you, dear voter, to engage in neighborhood-level discussions and debate local party leaders and ideas. Rather than going to a voting booth and filling out a ballot (primary), you go to a designated location, usually a high school gym or a community center (but sometimes even a living room or barn), and debate and vote on who you want your delegates to be for your party's assembly.

You will elect local party leaders here, ranging from gubernatorial delegates to Election Day volunteers. The most important people you'll choose in the caucuses will be the gubernatorial delegates for the party assembly, which will take place in mid-April. Think of it as an early vote for who you want to be your party's nominee for governor. (Alert: some candidates for governor will skip the caucuses and try to petition their way onto the ballot instead.) At caucuses you'll find delegates of some of the gubernatorial candidates, trying to convince you that their candidate is the best and that you should support him or her. Turnout in non-presidential-year caucuses is usually extremely low, though increased enthusiasm on the Democratic front may lead to a higher-than-usual non-presidential-year turnout.

Political junkies will get a kick out of caucuses, and political newbies might find it snoozy. You won't know which side you're on until you try.

A 2016 caucus.
A 2016 caucus.
7News via YouTube

The chosen delegates will then go on to represent your precinct at county and state assemblies in weeks to come. At the April state assembly (exact date TBD), your chosen delegate will help pick who goes on the June primary ballot....where they'll join the candidates who successfully petitioned on.

If you aren't registered with a political party, this will not impact you; feel free to skip ahead to the June 26 primaries, although unaffiliated voters are invited to observe the process if they so choose. In Colorado, you can easily change your registration online, but the deadline to register in order to participate in the March caucuses was back in early January. So if you aren't affiliated right now, you can't directly participate in the caucus.

How to participate: Again, only those registered to a political party can take part in these. If you are a registered Republican, you can find your caucus location here. If you're a Democrat, you can find your caucus location here. Wait, you're wondering, am I a registered Democrat or Republican? Check your party affiliation here.

2. June 26 primaries

After Proposition 108 narrowly passed in November 2016, independents are now allowed to take part in party primaries. Independents can choose whether they want to participate in the Democratic or Republican primary, because, well, you can't vote in both. Same goes for Republicans and Democrats.

If you're registered to vote by June 18, you'll receive a mail ballot. If you're already registered, you'll get your ballot the second or third week of June, and you can drop it off anytime before 7 p.m. on June 26 at any drop-off site listed in your mail-in ballot.

With crowded gubernatorial primaries on both sides of the aisle and lingering party divisions, the primaries will be closely watched.

How to participate: Make sure you're registered to vote, and return your mail ballot. Or you can vote in person at a polling location on June 26.

3. November 6 general election

This is where GOP and Democratic candidates will go head-to-head and Colorado's next governor, secretary of state, attorney general and all seven congressmen and women will officially be elected, among others. Almost half of the state's Senate (seventeen of 35 seats) and all 65 of Colorado's House of Representatives seats are up for grabs. There's also likely to be a host of to-be-determined ballot measures to vote on as well.

How to participate: Make sure you're registered to vote. Return your mail ballot, or you can vote in person at a polling location on November 6.

Thanks to mail ballots and in-person early voting, Colorado is regularly ranked among the easiest states to vote in, so take advantage of it. Additionally, in a swing state with several closely-watched upcoming elections at the state and national level, make sure you take part and register to vote.

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