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Colorado presidential primary ballot measures would give unaffiliated voters clout

October 13, 2016 Updated: October 14, 2016 at 6:31 am
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photo - Julie Christopher drops off her primary election ballot at a 24 hour ballot drop box outside the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office in June. The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office joined the state by instructing voters to bring their ballots straight to the ballot box to make sure they get counted.   Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Julie Christopher drops off her primary election ballot at a 24 hour ballot drop box outside the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office in June. The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office joined the state by instructing voters to bring their ballots straight to the ballot box to make sure they get counted. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Two measures on the ballot would bring back presidential primaries in Colorado and let unaffiliated voters have a say.

Propositions 107 and 108 have gained big-business backing with nearly $1.7 million flowing to a committee pushing the pair. But political parties don't like the measures, saying they would force Republicans and Democrats to bend to the will of unaffiliated voters and "invite mischief" into the campaign.

The backers of the measures say they're gaining steam and hitting the airwaves with a $750,000 investment in prime-time ads ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

"We've got a lot of support in the business community," said Jessie Koerner, a spokeswoman for Let Colorado Vote, the committee backing the propositions. "They feel this measure is inclusive and includes more voters."

Jeff Hays, who heads the El Paso County's Republican Party, said the measures would put bureaucrats ahead of political freedom.

"I think our legislature is already too involved in our internal operations or processes," he said. "I don't think we need any more rules or any more legislation."

The push for a presidential primary, which Colorado dumped after the 2000 election, is driven by two distinctly different camps, said Colorado political consultant Floyd Ciruli.

Backers of Bernie Sanders remain upset that he was wildly popular in public caucuses, but Hillary Clinton got the lion's share of the state's Democratic delegates under that party's rules. Donald Trump called the state's Republican process of assemblies and conventions "fixed" when Colorado Republicans gave their delegates to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

After similar ideas failed to pass the General Assembly, backers of the presidential primary took their fight to the voters.

Ciruli said businesses like the idea of giving nonpartisans a vote because that group of more than a million voters in Colorado is not wed to ideologue candidates, making them better-suited to picking presidential nominees who can win in November.

The most controversial of the proposals is that move to give primary ballots to unaffiliated voters in Proposition 108.

Parties have long battled to ensure only bona fide members of their respective parties play a role in picking candidates. To keep that process in the family, parties have preferred to cull the field of office-seekers with cozy caucuses or assembly meetings where party bigwigs have more heft.

"I don't think people from outside the organization should have that big of say in who the organization picks as a candidate," Hays said.

Koerner contends that getting more people involved in primaries will lead to better results. And because taxpayers cough up cash to conduct primaries - including an estimated $2.7 million for the system proposed by the propositions - everyone should have a say.

"If you're going to pay for it you should be allowed to play in it," she said.

But if everyone plays, they could play dirty, opponents said.

More open primaries could let voters "cross-over" changing their political stripes to vote for a bad candidate on the side they dislike to ensure their party's nominee triumphs. Koerner said that's unlikely in Colorado, where voters will be required to pick a single party's ballot and stick with it.

"We think that's going to cut down a lot more on this idea of shenanigans happening," Koerner said.

Hays, though, has a less altruistic view of politics.

"These things invite mischief," he warned.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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