Columns » Between The Lines

Solving Colorado's primary apathy

Between the Lines



Perhaps you've already filled out and returned your primary ballot. More likely, you tossed it in that pile beside the home computer. Maybe you'll vote this time, but then again, you're probably thinking, why bother? Might as well just wait until the general election.

Unless you're a local Republican wanting to weigh in on contested races, it's hard to blame you. Given the crass shenanigans that have erupted in GOP races from here to Trump Tower, many typical voters likely are repulsed enough to boycott this primary.

Especially when it doesn't have to be this way.

Funny how trend-setting and chance-taking Colorado can be in so many ways, from marijuana to mail ballots, yet when it comes to primary elections, this state is as backward as they come.

That was never more evident than in March at Colorado's caucuses. Instead of conducting presidential primaries like most states, Colorado didn't even add up official straw polls at caucuses. Instead of perhaps influencing either party's eventual nominee, and having a better early view of the candidates, we abdicated.

Meanwhile, 39 other states did let their voters have a say in the national race with presidential primaries. In 22 states for Democrats and 19 for Republicans, "open" primaries went a step further — allowing any registered voter to choose which party's ballot to receive. (Wouldn't that be nice, many Colorado Dems are saying now.) And 20 states have open congressional primaries, so if Colorado were among that group, everyone could have the option to participate in the Senate or House GOP races.

Many Colorado voters in both parties, who felt ineffective and even abused at our caucuses, tried to send strong messages up the power ranks that major changes should happen immediately, even eliminating caucuses. But the state Legislature didn't act in its 2016 session.

Next year might be different. If Colorado's general election goes as many predict, Democrats will regain the state House majority along with strengthening their hold on the state Senate, which becomes a powerful trifecta for Gov. John Hickenlooper's final two years. Just as the last Democratic monopoly led directly to gun-control legislation and relaxed voting laws (registering on election day, etc.), now we could see more major revisions.

Colorado might even look at the most trendy path, "top-two" primaries, already working in California, Louisiana and Washington. In those states, all voters receive ballots including every party's candidates for non-presidential races. (For example, Colorado ballots for the U.S. Senate race would've included all five Republicans as well as Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.) Each voter can pick one, and the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election. That might be two from the same party, as with California voters picking two Democrats to battle for that state's U.S. Senate seat to replace the retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

That way, all voters have an equal opportunity to choose their elected officials, and don't have to consider "crossing over" when their party doesn't have a viable candidate for a crucial office.

Colorado might join those "top-two" primary states, but if the idea is to find bipartisan support, the first step would be simply to reinstate a presidential primary, preferably "open" to allow independent/unaffiliated voters a chance. Each party still might want more control on local and state races, which would mean retaining caucuses, but hopefully not. Let's remember, clear majorities of caucus attendees on both sides were willing to end them.

Instead, for now we're left with Colorado's archaic primary, guaranteeing a dismal turnout (even with mail ballots) and with no presidential choice included. Imagine how many more would have voted in a March or April primary with real options for Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders as well as Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz, et al.

If you ask me, Colorado should take a close look at that "top-two" primary concept. That way, all of us would vote in every race that would be on our general election ballot, from Congress and county commissioners to state legislators. If not that, perhaps a compromise to have open primaries.

Then we wouldn't have to be begging people to fill out their ballots.

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