Vail Daily column: Caucus vs. primary

Teak Simonton
Valley Voices

During the past few weeks, our office received many phone calls from voters inquiring about the March 1 caucuses, and there was a lot of confusion. The process by which Colorado expresses its preference for the presidential candidates, according to Colorado law, is done through the caucus system rather than a presidential primary election, as some other states offer. We do have a primary election, but it is for congressional, state and county candidates, and will not include those running for president within their parties.

Caucuses are conducted by the Republican and Democratic parties, and the clerk and recorder is not the election authority. Each party has different rules, and those rules can be changed by national and state parties. This year, the Democratic caucuses took a presidential preference poll but the Republicans did not. The Democratic votes will be represented at the state convention and then subsequently at the national convention. On the Republican side, there were concerns about new national rules that would have tied state delegates attending the national convention to a candidate who might drop out of the race between the caucuses and the national convention, an understandable concern given the many Republicans running last fall. For this reason, party leadership deemed it prudent to cancel the caucus-based presidential preference poll.

There is some talk at the state Capitol about changing our process and it will be interesting to watch the debate unfold. Caucus supporters love the grassroots community gatherings encouraged by this format. Eligible voters must be present to vote and there is no absentee voting provision. Primary supporters believe that the caucus system, although beneficial in some aspects, limits participation for those who have scheduling, health or location conflicts on the night of the caucuses. A primary system does not require attendance, and would allow mail ballots, early voting and special provisions for those serving in the military overseas.

Were Colorado to change to a primary system for presidential elections, we would be faced with the cost of another election event, which could exceed $4 million across the state. Eagle County’s cost for a primary would range from $30,000 to $50,000. While sensitive to cost, I personally like the primary format because I believe in enfranchising every eligible voter. For example, my (registered voter) son is in college, and he had no possibility of attending the caucus and casting his preference for president, which was disappointing for him.

Remember though — this is all about selecting a president. Our primary for local officials will be June 28. Those affiliated with the Democratic, Republican and possibly the Libertarian parties (we do not yet know if the Libertarians will have a primary), will receive ballots the week of June 6 at their mailing address on record with the Clerk and Recorder’s election department. Please make sure that we have your current residential and mailing address in advance of June 6. You can update your address information at http://www.govote to be sure that you are able to vote for your candidates.

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If you have questions regarding any election topics, then please don’t hesitate to call me at 970-328-8728. And keep an eye on our legislature as they ponder this question about caucuses vs primaries. As the June 28 and Nov. 8 elections approach there will be more election specific information in the papers and on our website, as always.

Teak J. Simonton is the Eagle County clerk and recorder.

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