Beverly George didn’t expect to wear so many hats at her Republican precinct caucus.
The Fort Collins resident elected herself as chair, secretary and treasurer for precinct 2145235215 at Clearwater Church on Saturday. She didn’t have much of a choice – she was the only person from her precinct to show up.
“You run a good meeting,” joked site organizer Kristin Grazier, who was buzzing around the church Saturday morning to make sure all 10 caucuses there proceeded smoothly.
Just down the hall, another precinct caucus was comparatively bustling with about a dozen people sitting in rows of plastic chairs in a Sunday school classroom. And hours later, the cafeteria-slash-gymnasium at Lopez Elementary School vibrated with the chatter of about 60 Democrats representing 10 precincts.
Attendance appeared to be hit-or-miss on caucus day, when Democrats and Republicans alike get the chance to volunteer as delegates for county- and state-level conventions and vote on resolutions for state party platforms. Democratic caucus-goers also weighed in on preference polls to help narrow down Colorado’s primary ballot for the U.S. Senate race.
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Colorado voters cast out caucuses in 2016 in favor of streamlined primary elections – but only for presidential races, leaving the neighborhood meeting-style gatherings in place for all other statewide offices.
If that sounds confusing to you, you’re not the only one. Few people at the caucuses the Coloradoan attended this weekend were experts on the process, but they waded through the steps with the help of volunteer site organizers, written directions and scripts.
“I’m here because I care,” Fort Collins Democrat Fran Green said. “I care about who’s going to be running, and I care about the issues. I’m hoping the Senate will flip and the presidency will flip, and that Colorado will become 100% Democrat.”
At the Democratic caucuses at Lopez, precincts of about half a dozen people sat at lunch tables covered with paperwork and glossy political campaign mailers. The groups elected chairs, secretaries, treasurers and precinct committee members and took volunteers for delegates at upcoming conventions.
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When it was time to vote for which U.S. Senate candidate they wanted on the Democratic primary ballot, all seven of the attendees at the caucus observed by the Coloradoan had the same pick: Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of Colorado’s House of Representatives. Incomplete statewide results showed Romanoff well ahead of former Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The caucus-goers at Lopez lauded Romanoff’s environmental record, mental health advocacy and support for universal healthcare. They also admired the grassroots nature of his campaign.
“Hickenlooper is counting on getting elected because the (Democratic National Committee) and Washington, D.C., is pushing him,” Fort Collins resident Jennifer Stimson said. “Of course we want whoever can beat Cory Gardner. But I went to a house meeting where Romanoff was there, and he’s just for the people. I think he’s the right choice.”
Candidates needed at least 15% support from precinct caucuses to get delegates for the county convention, which will lead up to the state assembly in April. Democratic candidates will need at least 30% support at the state assembly to get on the primary ballot —unless they’re also trying for the primary ballot via petition, which requires 1,500 signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts. The candidates vying for the ballot using both methods only need to get 10% support at assembly if they get all the signatures they need. Hickenlooper has already collected the signatures.
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At the Republican caucuses earlier in the day, the process was slightly different. The precincts held no preference polls, although there were opportunities for candidates to speak to voters and for voters to speak in favor of candidates. House of Representatives candidate William Cutcher appealed to voters at Clearwater Church, where 10 Republican caucuses took place Saturday.
Standing on a multicolored rug at the front of the Sunday school classroom, precinct committee person Rachele Maffett took volunteers for delegate slots at the county, state, 2nd congressional district and judicial assemblies. Those assemblies will determine Republican primary ballots for all statewide races.
Maffett, who will attend the county convention, said she tries to go in with an open mind. This year’s county convention could winnow the field of four Republicans who are vying for two open Larimer County Board of Commissioners seats.
“There are many people running locally, and that’s very important,” Maffett said. “We really need to keep some good, strong Republican conservatives in there.”
Gerard Lameiro, a Fort Collins author and political analyst, said he’s been going to the county convention and sometimes the state convention for over 40 years. He said it’s become a hobby for him.
“I love doing it, because I think it’s important to be involved and try to get good people elected,” he said. “I figure if you don’t, you don’t know who you’re going to get stuck with.”
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Ian Johnston echoed Lameiro’s point at the Democratic caucus later that day. He previously caucused in 2016 and 2018 and said he considers it “one of the most important ways to officially participate in the Democratic process.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s on board with Colorado’s caucus system.
“The downside of the caucus is you have to physically be here, and you have to be available at this time,” he said. “If you’re working, or you have to take care of a child, or you just get sick, you are disenfranchised. There are a lot of people who can’t be involved in the process.”
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.
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