Colorado Caucus Could Be Raucous in 2016, Thanks to Sanders Supporters

The Colorado caucus system might be the least understood political process in the state — and that's saying something. "Precinct caucuses are meetings of registered electors within a precinct who are members of a particular major political party," explains the Colorado Secretary of State's web page. "The purpose of precinct caucuses is to elect precinct committee persons and delegates to county assemblies. Caucuses are held in locations across Colorado and are open to the public."

Open to the public, but that doesn't mean you can participate in the actual caucus voting unless you've followed the rules. For starters, you have to be registered to vote at least 29 days before the caucus, and a resident of a caucus precinct for at least thirty day in order to attend that particular caucus. But here's the tricky part: To participate in a caucus, you must be affiliated with a party at least two months before the caucus.

Which means there's not a moment to waste, if you want to be participate in a caucus on Tuesday, March 1 and aren't yet affiliated with the party you want to push.  Even if you're already registered to vote, you must declare the appropriate party affiliation by January 4 (the holiday pushes the deadline back from January 1). 

And you won't want to miss that deadline. Because while Colorado caucuses are often sleepy affairs — think of them as "primary lite" — the 2016 edition promises to be a fairly raucous caucus, at least at Democratic Party meetings, because Bernie Sanders supporters plan to come out in force to take advantage of this grassroots opportunity to push their candidate, and have already been holding caucus-training sessions and encouraging non-affiliated voters to register Democrat.

Not so on the Republican side — unless registered GOPS want to take a vote of confidence in their party leaders, that is. Because in August, Colorado Republican Party leaders decided against holding a straw poll to choose a presidential candidate at the 2016 caucus. Here's the August 25 announcement on that decision:
Last Friday, members of the Colorado Republican Committee's Executive Committee decided against holding a straw poll at its 2016 caucus. The decision means Colorado’s delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention will be unbound.

Republican National Committee bylaws do not allow states to hold non-binding preference polls. Any straw poll conducted at the caucus in 2016 would bind delegates to the poll’s results, even if a candidate ultimately decides to suspend or withdraw their campaign.

“Eliminating the straw poll means the delegates we send to the national convention in Cleveland will be free to choose the candidate they feel can best put America back on a path to prosperity and security,” Chairman Steve House said. “No one wants to see their vote cast for an empty chair, especially not on a stage as big as the national convention’s.”

The date of the 2016 Colorado Republican Caucus will be announced next month. Colorado law, however, requires scheduling the caucus on the first Tuesday of either February or March 2016.
The Colorado Republican calendar now notes that the caucus will still be held on March 1, since there is other business to do, including selecting delegates to the county assemblies this spring.

The Colorado Democratic Party site gives more detail on the process:
What is caucus?

Caucuses are fundamentally neighborhood meetings. You gather at the location designated for your precinct with other Democrats, vote for your preferred candidate and elect delegates to your county Convention and Assembly.

Caucuses are the first step in a multi-step process of nominating candidates and selecting delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July 2016. The steps and dates are: Precinct Caucus, March 1, 2016; County Convention and Assembly, held between March 2 and March 26, 2016; Congressional District Convention and Assembly, held between April 1 and April 15, 2016; and the State Convention and Assembly, April 16, 2016.

Caucuses are also where we elect Precinct Committee People (PCPs) and work on resolutions, which is the first step in drafting our party platform.

What exactly happens at caucus?

First, you show up at your caucus site and sign in at your precinct. At 7:00 the fun begins. We start with the Pledge of Allegiance, then read the rules aloud so everyone understands the process. Sometimes candidates are given an opportunity to make a quick speech; sometimes they visit each individual precinct; sometimes they are at a different site.

Each precinct elects a designated number of delegates to your county Assembly and Convention. Delegates are elected by candidate preference, so each caucus takes a preference poll. Everyone votes for their preferred candidate. A candidate must get at least 15% of the vote in order to receive any delegates. Lets assume you have 20 people at your caucus, and your precinct elects 10 delegates. Candidate W receives 1 vote; Candidate X receives 2 votes; Candidate Y receives 14 votes; and Candidate Z receives 3 votes. Candidates W and X will not receive any delegates since they did not meet the 15% threshold. Candidate Y will receive 7 delegates and Candidate Z will receive 3 delegates. Candidate Y's supporters vote amongst themselves to elect their 7 delegates. Candidate Z's supporters vote amongst themselves to elect their 3 delegates. Candidate W and X's supporters can try to get elected as Candidate Y or Z's delegates. (The math isn't too tricky, and we'll give your county party a worksheet to make it easier.)

After you complete the Presidential Preference Poll to allocate and select delegates to your county Convention, you go through the same process to allocate and select delegates to your county Assembly. The preference poll for your county Assembly will be the highest, contested state-wide race. Currently that is the CU Regent At-Large race. Some precincts may decide to elect the same people to be Convention and Assembly delegates.

Your precinct will also elect two Precinct Committee People and draft and vote on resolutions, which is the first step in drafting our party platform.

What's the difference between a County Assembly and a County Convention?

County Conventions and County Assemblies are two separate meetings, but they are held at the same time on the same date. A Convention is used exclusively for nominating a Presidential candidate and delegates. An Assembly is used for all other nominations (U.S. Senate, Colorado State House, County Commissioners...)...

Anyone is welcome to show up at caucus and observe. If space is tight, visitors might be grouped against a wall.

When and where is caucus?

Caucus will be March 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm.

Locations will be determined by your local county Democratic Party and should be in or around your neighborhood. We will publish caucus locations on our website when they are available.

To recap: If you're currently unaffiliated and need to declare an affiliation in order to participate in a caucus, or want to change affiliations so that you can participate in another party's caucus, you must register the desired affiliation by January 4. You can do it online, simply by going to GoVoteColorado.com (thanks, Colorado Secretary of State). That's also where you can register to vote, anytime....but you can't participate in a caucus unless you're affiliated, and you can't declare an affiliation unless you're registered — so you might as well do it all now.

Clear? By the way, after the caucus, you can change your affiliation again on the same site.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun