Colorado Republicans on Saturday rejected a bid to call off next year's primary election rather than let unaffiliated voters have a say in the party's nominations to the fall ballot.
But in something of a split decision, the GOP at the same time approved a motion to sue the state over a voter-approved law that lets unaffiliated voters participate in Democratic and Republican primaries.
“We are focused on 2022 and winning over ALL voters in Colorado and persuading them that our candidates will bring the best solutions for the future of Colorado,” Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown told Colorado Politics in a text message after the votes.
Meeting in Pueblo, members of the state GOP's central committee voted overwhelmingly against a motion to "opt out" of the primary by using a provision in Proposition 108, the 2016 ballot measure that established semi-open primaries. (Truly open primaries would allow Democrats to vote in Republican primaries, and vice versa, which can't happen under Colorado's system.)
Under the statewide initiative, which won approval from 53% of voters, unaffiliated voters receive both Republican and Democratic primary ballots but can only fill out one of them. Since its adoption, Democrats haven't seriously considered scrapping their primary, while Republicans have voted down the proposal in 2017, 2019 and again this year.
Supporters of the opt-out proposal say it doesn't make sense to let outsiders help pick GOP nominees, while opponents argue that skipping the primary risks alienating the state's 1.8 million unaffiliated voters, a group both major parties rely on to win statewide elections.
The most recent voter registration totals show that 43% of Colorado's active voters are unaffiliated, 29% are registered as Democrats and 26% are Republicans.
The motion failed at Saturday's meeting with 171.6 votes in favor and 241.3 votes against, amounting to just 33% of the 525-member central committee's membership voting in favor — falling far short of the 75% threshold required to scrap the primary under the law.
A pair of motions to initiate a lawsuit challenging the law and establish a fund to pay for the litigation, however, both won unanimous approval.
“Thank God the Colorado Republican Party at least made the sensible decision to sue Colorado over the unconstitutional open primary law," state Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, said in a text message after the votes.
Williams, one of the leading supporters of the bid to scrap the primary and instead designate nominees at GOP assemblies, called the decision to move ahead with a lawsuit challenging seeking to overturn state's primary system "a sign of hope."
A majority of the state party's elected officers campaigned to end the primary, including Republican National Committee member Randy Corporon, who led the charge, state vice chair Priscilla Rahn and state party secretary Marilyn Harris.
Most of the declared Republican candidates in top races, though, either opposed canceling the primary or didn't take a position. Vocal opponents of the move included U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Ken Buck, along with gubernatorial hopeful Heidi Ganahl and U.S. Senate candidate Eli Bremer, while U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and U.S. Senate candidates Erik Aadland and Peter Yu refused to take sides.
“Today the Colorado GOP boldly demonstrated that they are ready to face the challenge of the upcoming election and want to engage all Colorado voters," Bremer said in a text message after the meeting. "Republicans, independents, and even Democrats are already responding to our campaign’s message of common sense in the face of the failures of Biden and Bennet. I applaud the vision and foresight of the state central committee for their decisive action today.”
Aadland, who said before the meeting that it was up to central committee members to decide the question, told Colorado Politics in a text message after the decision that it was time to "unify the party by putting the good of the country ahead of intraparty differences." He added, "We want to serve the greater good, uniting on core principles that will bring solutions to the many critical issues we face as Americans."
Congressional candidate Laurel Imer, who launched a campaign in March against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and supported the move to skip next year's primary, said there were good arguments on both sides but that she's glad the party will sue to overturn the state's primary law.
"A lot of people don’t agree with Proposition 108, they believe it is unconstitutional," she said, noting that she was all for letting Republicans pick their nominees via the caucus and assembly process.
"The intent is to keep the integrity of the Republican platform by securing nominations of people who support the platform," she said. "When we open that up, it is a danger to water down our values."