Garfield County GOP Assembly Zoom

Screen captures taken on Saturday, March 21, 2020, during the Garfield County Republican Party's 2020 county assembly, which was held remotely using Zoom teleconferencing software due to state and county health department orders restricting in-person meetings in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In Weld County, the Republican Party held a drive-through assembly in a high school parking lot on Saturday morning.

Delegates to the Denver County Democratic assembly and convention have until next Saturday to return ballots that will be delivered later this week by email. They'll also receive links to online videos posted by candidates vying for spots on the primary ballot.

The Garfield County GOP was first forced to move its meeting from a middle school to a community center after local schools closed, but then, after large-scale gatherings were banned, the party met online Saturday afternoon, using teleconferencing software.

Welcome to politics in the age of social distancing.

Across the state, Colorado's political parties are grappling with tasks that only weeks ago seemed routine and mundane, like convening in an auditorium to hear speeches and decide which candidates can advance to the June primary, and who gets to attend this summer's national conventions.

The novel coronavirus pandemic, however, has precluded the usual procedures, requiring the county and state parties to come up with alternative ways to conduct political business.

"We're all improvising here. We're feeling our way around," Kristina Cook, chairman of the Denver Republican Party, told Colorado Politics. "Everybody's being very creative and responsive to their counties and districts."

The state's aggressive response to the viral outbreak — including declaration of a state of emergency by Gov. Jared Polis and a later order banning meetings of more than 10 people — came just as the Democrats' and Republicans' caucus and assembly process was getting into full swing earlier this month.

While some smaller counties with few delegates were able to meet under the new restrictions last week, party leaders have had to come up with a variety of solutions to conduct business in accordance with party rules and laws that until this week required holding large, in-person meetings.

"How do we make sure people have a voice and we can put people on the ballot without public health concerns?" Morgan Carroll, who chairs Colorado's Democratic Party, told Colorado Politics. "But we also need to keep the wheels of democracy going forward as much as we can."

Following last week's swift passage of bipartisan legislation and an order issued by Gov. Jared Polis, both state parties amended their bylaws to allow for remote assemblies and to build additional flexibility into the process, including expanded proxy voting and delaying some deadlines.

"This is very uncharted territory," said David Pourshoushtari, the state Democrats' communications director. "With the support of the state party, county officers are working around the clock to make sure as many people can participate in our democratic processes as possible while people can keep safe."

A few county parties are still figuring out how they'll handle meetings scheduled through the first week of April, and the state Democrats and Republicans are finalizing plans for holding their state assemblies and conventions remotely, but party officials told Colorado Politics that this weekend's first round of unconventional assemblies and conventions went smoothly.

"The whole process was pretty quick and easy," said Weld County GOP chairman Will Sander, who directed traffic at the county's drive-through assembly Saturday at Northridge High School in Greeley.

"We really didn't have too much of an opportunity to do a dry run," he said with a chuckle after the assembly, which involved more than 250 delegates navigating ad hoc lanes in the school's "enormous parking lot," first driving past candidates, then receiving a ballot packet after showing their driver's licenses to the credentialing committee, and then handing their voted ballots out the window to the county clerk.

"We had phenomenally high turnout, and the feedback has been very positive," Sander said. "I think people actually like it as an alternative to the usual way we hold assembly."

Denver Republicans are conducting their assembly over a weeklong period, Cook said, starting with ballots that went out Saturday for the first round of voting and to accept nominations from the virtual floor, and then sending out the final ballot on Wednesday with instructions to return it by March 28.

"There have been some technical challenges," Cook acknowledged, as well as some low-tech hurdles, such as having to hand-deliver ballots to four delegates who don't have email.

"We're being as much in contact as we possibly can. It'll be the most well-documented credential process in history," she said with a laugh.

"The way we're doing it will allow us to provide a really good paper trail nominating our candidates. We're just concerned with getting the business done that we need to do."

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