Rocky Mountain News
It's time, alas, to get rid of the caucus system
October 4, 2002
"Small pluralities, by the way, can already happen
under the current system too. It may be advisable to institute some
sort of runoff system eventually - either "instant" (through the
designation of second choices on the first ballot) or through a
second election, which Denver already uses."
We loved the caucuses, we truly did. They were just right for their
time. Party members from each precinct gathered in somebody's living
room on a spring evening every election year, ate cookies,
passionately talked politics and elected delegates to county,
district and state assemblies, where primary candidates were
Unfortunately, their time has passed, and our love is
dead - as dead as the caucuses themselves.
Now they need to be put
out of their misery. Amendment 29 makes it painless. We urge you to
vote for it. It would make the petition system - already an option -
the exclusive method for getting on the primary ballot. But it would
greatly reduce the number of signatures needed. That in fact is the
main appeal of the proposal.
Caucuses were reasonably well attended
into the 1980s. Now they're not; the parties' county chairmen still
work for hours to encourage attendance through phone calls and
leafleting, to little or no avail.
What killed the caucuses?
Changing laws and changing lifestyles.
1) In 1987, the legislature
changed the requirement for making the primary ballot from 20
percent of the delegate vote to 30 percent. That's a big jump, and
an increasing number of candidates chose to bypass the caucuses and
circulate petitions in order to be sure of making the ballot.
Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act a dozen years ago
meant that political events could no longer be held in private homes
that didn't offer wheelchair access - as most don't. Parties had to
rent high schools or churches instead. That's expensive and
complicated, so as many as a dozen precincts would use one facility.
So much for the "neighborhood" caucus.
3) Colorado grew fast during
the past 20 years and most newcomers were unfamiliar with the caucus
system, which survives in only a few states. The fact that it's hard
to explain didn't do anything to encourage attendance.
became too busy, or too reluctant, to go to a strange place and talk
politics with people they probably didn't know. These days, people
form their friendships where they work, not where they live.
Neighborhoods aren't as cohesive as they once were.
29, the number of signatures needed to make a congressional primary
would remain at 1,000. But the number needed for governor or U.S.
senator would drop from 10,500 to 5,000. Requirements for lesser
offices would also drop proportionately.
This isn't a perfect
proposal. But at least it's a proposed statute, not a constitutional
amendment. That means the legislature can adjust the signature
requirements if too many candidates turn up on primary ballots and
winners garner embarrassingly small pluralities. There's no need to
organize another initiative.
Small pluralities, by the way, can
already happen under the current system too. It may be advisable to
institute some sort of runoff system eventually - either "instant"
(through the designation of second choices on the first ballot) or
through a second election, which Denver already uses.
the caucus-assembly system like to brag that it helps the party weed
out the nutcakes before they make it to the finals. We're not sure
that's true, but if Amendment 29 helps elect some nutcakes they're
welcome to try and reinstitute a new caucus system.
But to be
resurrected it must first be killed.