Why we have a caucus

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Feb 032008
 
Authors: Erik Myers

When Colorado residents meet to caucus tomorrow, they’ll chat with one another, discussing the issues facing the nation and the candidates who could become America’s next leader.

Things used to be different, though. Colorado residents used to vote via the primary, a straight forward voting process that state legislators eliminated in 2004 in favor of the current caucus process. Since early 2007 however, representatives and politicians have discussed a return to the primary for Colorado, to enhance Colorado’s position in the political landscape.

The primary are the caucus run under relatively different systems. The primary is run more like a general election with voters simply mark a vote, while both parties’ caucus system entertains conversation on the issues and the candidates.

Supporters of the primary process, such as House Minority Leader Mike May and former Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson, argue that the primary process delivers more bang for the buck; despite a bigger price tag, a primary could offer an easier, accessible method of assigning delegates, while pushing Colorado into prominence in the campaign season.

Fort Collins resident Brenda Sattler, 66, says she has participated in both, preferring the primary format.

“You should not have to promote your party or your cause,” Sattler said. “I prefer the straight voting.”

However, many within Colorado’s political community say Colorado is better off without a primary.

Dick Wadhams, Colorado Republican committee chairman, says that caucuses fit well with Colorado, and do the job primaries do with virtually no funding.

“Personally, I don’t like the primary process, they’re not cost-effective.” Wadhams said.

And funding certainly fuels the debate against a primary process.

Less than 20 percent of Colorado’s registered voters showed up to the state’s 2000 primary, which came with a $1.8 million price tag.

According to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, a Colorado primary in 2004 would’ve cost the state $2.2 million had legislators not made the transfer to the caucus system.

When conversation of a possible primary broke out among state legislators in early 2007, Secretary of State Mike Coffman addressed the issue with a press release, stating that under Colorado’s precinct caucus system — in which national delegates are selected by state delegates from their party’s state convention, not by voters themselves- would be nothing but a useless popular vote.

“A presidential primary under Colorado’s system -regardless of when it would occur – would be nothing more than a $2 million straw poll,” Coffman said in his statement. “It’s certainly not a good use of taxpayer dollars, and would have absolutely no effect on the presidential primary race.”

John Straayer, political science professor, mostly agrees, but added that the primary process had a few advantages despite the heavy cost.

“If you could run a primary for free, I’d consider it,” Straayer said. “You’d have more people participating in a primary, you might get a slightly different outcome.”

News Editor Erik Myers can be reached at news@collegian.com

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