The time has finally arrived for registered Summit County Democrats and Republicans, and throughout Colorado for that matter, to let their preferences be heard, on Tuesday, March 1. As part of the state’s election process every two years, the party precinct caucus takes place on what has commonly become known nationally as “Super Tuesday” because Colorado is among the greatest number of states holding primaries on a single day.
The number of states participating in this crucial bellwether evening of the election cycle has changed through the years but in 2016 will include 13, plus one territory. They are: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming as well as American Samoa.
These preliminary show of hands — as opposed to actually voting — provide the time and space for, among other local and state representative candidate selections, a presidential preference poll for contenders as each tries to secure their party’s nomination (more on that in a moment). Each state’s delegates are then divvied up in building toward the threshold for officially selecting a nominee at the party’s respective national convention. Republicans will hold their convention in Cleveland on July 18-21, while Democrats will head to Philadelphia on July 25-28.
Local Democrats are holding their caucus at the Summit County Community and Senior Center (0083 Nancy’s Pl. in Frisco). The caucus is scheduled to take place from 7-9 p.m., and those wishing to participate are advised to arrive no later than 6:30 p.m. to complete registration.
The 2008 caucus for Democrats, which pit supporters for then-Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois) against those for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (New York) was a record year in Summit County for those congregating to have their voices heard. Obama walked away the victor that year, and estimates on area attendance stand at more than 550 that evening, which pushed the limits of the capacity of the allotted space.
“At that time, there was just incredible amount of phone calls and emails and all sorts of communication from people organizing here in Colorado to turn folks out on both sides for the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” recalled County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, a Democrat. “We are getting more of that now, we’re seeing more emails, but I remember much more conversation in 2008 than what see and experience right now. Plenty of people say they plan to come to the caucus, but I’d be surprised if we see those same numbers on Tuesday. We’ll see.”
For the Democrats, Colorado has 66 delegates, plus 12 superdelegates, up for grabs Tuesday night. That total will be distributed proportionally based on, essentially, the number of supporters for each candidate.
Staffers say they are prepared should the gathering again approach bursting at the seams totals, though uncertainty remains about potential participation. Even so, there’s hopeful optimism for a good crowd.
“I don’t have a feeling for how much is going on behind the scenes to get people to show up,” said Bev Breakstone, chair of the Summit County Democrats. “It’s not one of these things where people have to RSVP. They just have to be registered, want to show up and participate.”
Summit County Republicans, meanwhile, will hold their party caucus at the Silverthorne Pavilion (400 Blue River Pkwy. in Silverthorne) also from 7-9 p.m. with qualified attendees who are registered as Republicans asked to show up between 6-7 p.m. for registration. Based on pre-registration numbers, organizers are expecting a good turnout.
“We’re looking forward to a very strong showing this year,” said Eric Buck, vice chairman of the Summit County Republicans. “We think it’s important for people to be involved in the process and elect delegates who reflect their values and have them move forward to the county and state assemblies to try and vote for the candidates that meet their goals.”
The Colorado Republican Party unanimously voted this past August to forgo a straw poll for president after national GOP leaders revised party rules to tether delegates to the one caucus winner. So instead, the state caucus will act as the first in a multi-step process for selecting the 34 delegates from Colorado who will attend the national convention and ultimately swing their support behind a candidate.
That said, local Republicans still plan to hold an informal poll for president.
“It’s not official,” added Buck, “but it should give elected delegates at the caucus a sense of where people in Summit County stand, and hopefully they respect those votes as they move on to the next level.”
In order to attend a caucus, whether registered as a Republican or Democrat, Summit County residents need to meet certain qualifications. First, he or she must have lived in one of the county’s 20 precincts for at least 30 days, must be registered in that precinct at least 29 days ago and then have designated themselves one of the two parties by this past Jan. 4, per the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Those who turned 18 years old or became naturalized U.S. citizens and registered to vote two months prior to March 1 are also eligible to attend.
Individuals who do not satisfy all three of these requirements are out of luck. Caucuses are open to the public for those who want to watch, but those voters registered as unaffiliated will not be able to participate in either party’s caucus.
Following registration and the reading of both county and state party rules, attendees for each precinct will accomplish three main activities. Those are selecting two precinct leaders for the next two years — settling on delegates to represent them at the county assemblies and moving forward — and both draft and vote on resolutions in working toward the party platform.
Presidential election years tend to be much more highly-attended caucuses than off-year cycles, though each helps determine whether candidates make it onto the November ballot, including for U.S. Senate and Congress seats as well as for state-level offices. And the only way to have a say is to be present.
“I really encourage people to attend,” said Davidson, regardless of political affiliation. “There were some great conversations back in 2008. There is that same potential for this Tuesday night, and I always, always look for opportunities to encourage people to participate in our democracy. This is a great opportunity to do just that.”