The precinct caucuses are in the rearview mirror as Colorado proceeds to its Democratic and Republican county assemblies. In El Paso County (county seat: Colorado Springs), the Republican county assembly is on Saturday March 24 and the Democratic on Saturday March 31.
Most of the media attention at the county assemblies will be on statewide elections, mainly the contested races in both parties for the nomination for state governor. The gubernatorial candidates will visit as many county assemblies in their political party as they can - usually in the more populated counties on the Front Range. The candidates will mingle with the county assembly delegates, give a short, spirited speech, and shake a few hands before racing on to the next stop.
Yet behind the glitter of visiting statewide candidates for office, the county assemblies will go about the less glamourous task of nominating party candidates for county commissioner, county sheriff, county clerk, county treasurer, etc. In El Paso County, two county commissioners and the sheriff are on the 2018 ballot.
To political scientists, however, Democratic and Republican county assemblies are not created equal. The importance of a particular county assembly varies with the extent to which the county is dominated by one political party or the other.
If one political party dominates a particular county, it typically wins all the county offices in the November general election. As a result, that party's county assembly is the only one that matters where county elections are concerned. The candidates nominated at the assembly, if they also win the party primary election, will de facto be elected to office in the general election the following fall.
In the other party's county assembly, the non-dominant party, the nominations for county offices are meaningless because the candidates nominated, even if they win a primary, will almost always lose the general election.
We've looked at the most recent party registration figures for Colorado as of this February. If a county's percentage of registration among the two major parties was 55 percent or greater in one party, we forecast that county dominated by that particular party. That party was likely, election after election, to win all the elected offices in the county government.
As of now, 36 counties are dominated by the Republican Party, 15 counties dominated by the Democratic Party, and 11 counties capable of swinging back and forth between the two parties. That's right. Only 11 counties in Colorado are likely to see a real general election take place between competing Democratic and Republican candidates for county office.
Among those 11 "competitive" counties are Arapahoe and Jefferson counties in the Denver suburbs; Larimer County in northern Colorado; and two "ski" area counties - Eagle County (Vail) and Routt County (Steamboat).
The counties in which the Democratic county assembly is dominant and the Republican county assembly has little role in the election of county officials include Adams County (59 percent Democrat), Boulder County (73 percent), Pueblo County 62 percent), and a group of less populous counties in southern Colorado - Costilla (80 percent), Huerfano (61 percent), Las Animas (63 percent).
If you register as a Republican in any of these Democratic dominant counties, you may have registered away your right to have virtually anything to do with the selection of local county officials - either at the county assembly or in the subsequent primary elections.
While discussing this topic of Democratic dominant counties, it must be noted that none of this applies to Denver, which is a combined city and county. Its city-county officials are elected in non-partisan elections.
In the 36 counties which register heavily Republican, there are almost two dozen rural counties with relatively small populations. Some of these have the highest percentages of Republican registrations in the state: Rio Blanco (90 percent Republican), Cheyenne County (85 percent), Moffat County (84 percent), and Elbert County (82 percent).
Most of these Republican dominant counties are on the Eastern Plains and the Western Slope, yet there are also Republican dominated counties on the Front Range. The most populous are El Paso County (66 percent Republican), Douglas County (69 percent), and Weld County (63 percent).
Look at El Paso County (Colorado Springs) and we can see how this works out in practice. The Democrats have not elected a county commissioner, a county sheriff, a county clerk, etc., for more than 40 years. Two of the county's five county commissioner seats and the sheriff are up for election in 2018.
In effect, the county's two new commissioners and the sheriff will be selected either at the Republican county assembly (if there is no primary election) or in a Republican primary set up by the county assembly. Registered Democrats will have no role to play in this process.
That's a big deal. There are more than 80,000 registered Democrats in El Paso County, and they are all denied an effective voice in the election of their county commissioners and sheriff. That's a lot of people to be excluded from a supposed popular election process.
Over at the El Paso County Democratic county assembly, it is always difficult to find sacrificial lambs willing to run in a general election in which they are likely to be "smoked." A candidate or two may be willing to get on the Democratic ticket for county commissioner or sheriff in the general election, but typically they will be running for party spirit rather than hoping to serve in office.
So county assemblies are going on right now in Colorado. It's important to keep in mind whether your party's county assembly is Republican dominant, Democratic dominant, or is competitive between the two major parties.
Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy are political scientists at Colorado College.