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GUEST COLUMN: Caucus process should be replaced

By: Jeff Hays
March 18, 2016 Updated: March 18, 2016 at 4:15 am
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Our caucus and assembly processes are disenfranchising, exclusionary, prone to mischief and are unfunded mandates that create costly logistical burdens in exchange for very little value. We should replace them with a closed, precinct-based, winner-takes-all primary to involve more voters, reduce mischief, save resources and produce better results.

The caucus is inherently disenfranchising. If you are deployed, working, ill or infirm, can't find a sitter, or snowed in, then you don't get to vote.

The caucus is exclusionary. It requires special knowledge of arcane rules, including specific time and location, parliamentary procedure, delegate allocations and elevations, and justification as to why we even do elections this way. Precinct numbers, dates, locations, allocations and procedures change every two years, further complicating the process.

Delegates have authority to vote on a host of candidates, not all of whom may represent the precinct majority. Candidates get to run cheaply and focus on that extremely small group of delegates who may not represent their entire district.

Our caucus is prone to mischief. Despite training, we still have caucus leaders who mismanage their caucuses, fail to complete or deliver required paperwork, or abuse their authority. Some individuals, campaigns, insurgent groups, or special interests try hijacking caucuses so they may dominate assemblies or take over party organizations. These efforts detract from overall electoral success, and they damage the infrastructure necessary to support all of a party's candidates.

Our caucus is an unfunded legislative mandate, forcing parties to spend time and money on conducting training, securing facilities, copying forms and producing signage. Afterward, parties field countless complaints and suffer public relations damage over things they largely cannot control. They process mountains of paperwork, verify voter eligibility, apply arcane methods for elevating alternates, pay rental fees for assembly locations and expend further energy that should be applied to winning elections.

Since our caucus rewards insiders who understand the process, it should theoretically reinforce party choice and control. Ironically, by reducing the number of voters who actually vote for individual candidates, it reduces parties' credibility and relevance. Parties get blamed by confused and disgruntled voters for a broken process they do not control.

Caucus consumers like the caucus, often sanctimoniously describing it as "grass roots" or "the purest form" of representative government. Producers - county party officers and their volunteers - recognize its weaknesses and loathe the resource drain and low return on investment. The entire party organization must be devoted to an arcane process that serves barely 10 percent of the party's voters.

Here's how we fix it: replace the current system with a closed primary election that decides party candidates for all positions from precinct leader to president. This will save money, reduce complexity, include more voters, build stronger party organizations and help us elect good candidates who will defend our rights and promote a strong, free and prosperous Colorado.

It must be a closed primary. Open primaries invite mischief and encourage outside agents to unduly or malevolently influence intraparty elections.

Create a simple, precinct-centric ballot with all district races for which that precinct is a part. For example, a Precinct 312 ballot would include precinct leader, HD-19, SD-9, CC-1, county offices, 4th JD, 5th CD, state offices, U.S. Senate, and presidential candidates, as applicable.

Make ballot access challenging and require evidence of popular support. Require candidates to submit verified signatures of 2 percent and a filing fee of 2 percent of the registered party voters of the district they seek. For example, a candidate for a house district with 50,000 registered voters of her party would require 1,000 verified signatures and $1,000.

Each state party would proportionally allocate 10,000 elector positions to each precinct based on voter turnout in the previous election. Those electors are not actual persons, thus eliminating all previous work performed by parties; rather, they are "points" that will be tallied in winner-takes-all fashion for each precinct. Precinct winners receive all elector votes allocated to that precinct. The primary winner in each district would be the candidate who won the greatest number of elector votes in precincts within that district. This is critical: winner-takes-all, districted elections increase voter power and force candidates to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters across their districts, thus reducing the possibility of factions hijacking the election.

Since we already have a primary, those costs stay the same. Since parties will no longer need to plan and execute caucus and assembly processes, it decreases overall costs. Everyone wins.

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Jeff Hays is El Paso County Republican Party chairman.

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