CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
Links
About CVD

Rocky Mountain News

Editorial: It's time, alas, to get rid of the caucus system
October 4, 2002

Key Excerpt:

"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."

Full Text:

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 selected.

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.

2) 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.

4) People 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.

Under Amendment 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.

Believers in 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.


top of page



______________________________________________________________________
Copyright 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610 Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616 ____ [email protected]