Some people say caucuses are discriminatory, disenfranchising unaffiliated (independent) voters. It’s true: party caucuses do disenfranchise unaffiliated voters.
Also read: POINT | Eliminate Colorado's outdated caucus
Caucuses are a party process for party members to pick their candidates for public office. Unaffiliated voters have no official part in it.
Think of it this way: If you want to huddle with the Broncos, to help them pick which plays to run, you have to be a Bronco. The Broncos don’t let spectators into their huddles, and they definitely don’t let in any Raiders!
So, be a Bronco. It’s that easy. Affiliate with a political party, and then you get to participate in all of the party’s decision-making processes.
Other people say caucuses even disenfranchise party members because, being held on one particular day at a specific time in a certain place, if the member cannot attend then they cannot participate.
That’s true, but also disingenuous. Caucuses are no more inaccessible than any other event you’d plan to attend, like a birthday party. All you have to do is show up to vote.
Caucuses aren’t perfect. Nothing in this world is perfect. But these problems aren’t as bad as they’re made to appear, and caucuses do have some often-overlooked benefits which deserve consideration.
Firstly: Caucuses are fun. You get to hang out with your like-minded neighbors, debating about which candidates to support and why. It’s democracy in its purest form.
Secondly: Because caucuses are party events, they’re paid for by the parties, not the state — saving taxpayers millions of dollars each election cycle. When caucuses tell the state whose names to print on ballots, the state doesn’t need to develop petition forms, print them, distribute them, collect them, and verify them — with all the many labor hours which comes with that — for every candidate in every race during every election. That’s a lot of valuable savings.
Thirdly: Caucuses also make it easier for first-time candidates to get onto ballots and win elections. Candidates need only 30% of the voters in any caucus to support them to get onto the primary ballot. And when only a few dozen people attend a caucus, 30% of that caucus is much easier to get than the thousands of signatures required to petition onto a ballot.
If party members want to become candidates without going through the caucus process, in Colorado they can do so by petitioning onto the primary ballot.
But petitioning isn’t perfect, either. It also has problems.
Petitioning takes the decision-making process out of the hands of the people and gives it to the candidates themselves. Well-funded candidates who can pay for signature gatherers have a decisive advantage over everyone else, making campaigns more expensive to run and therefore out-of-reach for first-time candidates. That’s bad for everyone.
Paid signature gatherers cause problems, too. In 2016, a paid signature gatherer illegally forged dozens of signatures to ensure her employer candidate got onto the ballot. In 2018, a signature gathering company used out-of-state signature gatherers (which is illegal in Colorado) for several different candidate races.
If candidates fail to secure enough valid signatures to be able to get onto the ballot, they just sue the state to let them onto the ballot anyway — as we've seen in the current U.S. Senate race.
Are these problems likely to go away or get worse if caucuses are abandoned and every candidate in every race has to petition onto the ballot? The answer is obvious: these petitioning problems will likely get worse.
Keep the caucuses, Colorado. They’re not perfect, but caucuses help candidates and encourage active party memberships.
Ryan Macoubrie is chair of the El Paso County Young Democrats.