RBC I How does a voter in Colorado get involved in registering their grass roots vote for their political party’s candidate?
First, they must be registered with whichever party their candidate is a part of, then they participate in the March 1 party caucuses.
Rio Blanco County Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for the 2016 election cycle for all party candidates focused on the March 1 caucuses and their respective county assemblies later in March.
Rio Blanco County GOP Vice Chairman John Scott of Meeker believes the local process provides a unique opportunity for county voters.
“The local process is important because it is where the whole process starts,” Scott said. “What is done here in Rio Blanco County on March 1 can have an effect on every election this year—from county commissioner to president. It really brings the whole thing down to the individual.
“Colorado is one of only a handful of states to use a caucus system,” he said. “People really should take advantage of this.”
Precinct caucuses begin at 7 p.m. on March 1. For Rangely (precincts 1 and 2), the Republicans will meet at Town Hall and the Democrats will meet at the Western Rio Blanco County Recreation District, 611 S. Stanolind Dr. In Meeker, (precincts 3 and 4), Republicans will meet at the County Fairgrounds and Democrats at the Meeker Public Library Community Room. For precinct 5, which is Piceance Creek, the Republicans will be at the Rock School and the Democrats will meet with Democrat precincts 3 and 4 at Meeker Library.
Caucuses are the first step in a multi-step process of nominating candidates and, ultimately, the selection of delegates to the national conventions this summer.
Participants gather at the precinct location with others of their party, discuss candidates, vote for their preferred candidates and elect delegates to their county assembly and convention.
Caucuses are also where party precinct committee people (leadership) are elected and resolutions are approved. Resolutions at the county level are the first step in drafting state party platforms.
Scott said it is important that attendees be prepared with proper identification for their meetings.
“On arrival at the caucus, everyone has to check in; this is usually a quick and easy process,” he said. “I know that in Rio Blanco County, most everyone knows each other, but having an ID can speed up the process and help eliminate errors.
“During the check-in, a participant’s name will be verified against a list provided by the county clerk’s office, to check registration, proper party affiliation and that they are attending the correct precinct caucus,” Scott said.
Rio Blanco County Democratic Chair Paula Davis, a former Rangely mayor, said, “The one place we can definitely have influence on the course of our future is at the local level.”
Davis also reminds all voters that it is important for anyone wishing to be appointed an election judge by the county clerk to participate in the caucuses.
Davis added, “This political structure and process we have … should be looked upon, at our local, small, rural county level, first and foremost, as a means of getting at least two decent members of our communities on the general election ballot for each office, so all voters will have a choice.
“National party politics and policies really have very little bearing on our local candidates,” she said. “In fact, it should be the other way around.
“The system is supposed to be run from the bottom up,” Davis said. “Yes, we need candidates with common sense who will be conscientious in trying to run our local government. Common sense is by no means partisan. And we need local candidates who become elected and can be effective in influencing party politics and policies on up the line.”
Davis wonders what issues will come up as important to caucus goers. She’s certain economic development and job creation will be discussed as well as, perhaps, environmental issues, the impact of the ebb and flow of energy development activity on the county and the state, and health issues.
While county assemblies and conventions meet the same day, one right after the other, formally they are separate meetings. The latter focuses on the presidential candidates and the assembly is for all other candidates.
In Rio Blanco County, the Republican assembly sets a total of 55 delegates from the four precincts plus alternates. The Democrats set their assembly delegate total at 50.
The Republican County Assembly will be held at 1 p.m. on March 12 at the Weiss Center’s Colorado Room at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely. The County Democratic Assembly will also be held in Rangely on March 20 at 2 p.m. at the WRBM Recreation Center.
This year, the only county offices up for election are the county commissioners from District 2 (west end of the county), currently held by Jon Hill, and District 3 (east end of the county), currently held by Jeff Eskelson. Hill and Eskelson, both Republicans, are seeking re-election. At this time, only Eskelson is being challenged. Former county sheriff Si Woodruff, also a Republican, filed his intent to seek nomination as a District 3 commissioner.
Currently, Rio Blanco County commissioners make salaries of $58,500 plus benefits. Thanks to state legislative action, however, commissioners elected this November will make $76,050 annually plus benefits.
In order to qualify for placement on the June 28 primary ballot, a candidate needs to receive 30 percent of the total delegate vote at the county assembly.
Any candidate who garners 10 percent of the vote but less than 30 percent at the assembly can still qualify for the primary ballot in their party by petition. They must submit such a petition for nomination to the county clerk by April 4, signed by approximately 300 qualified voters in their party (based on 20 percent of the number voting in that primary four years ago). A registered party member who does not participate in the caucus process can also petition onto the primary ballot by meeting these same requirements.
So what about a voter not affiliated with a political party?
Any voter, registered as unaffiliated as of Jan. 1 and remaining unaffiliated, may also be placed on the general election ballot by successful petition. Beginning May 19, any unaffiliated voter can begin circulating a petition for nomination. That petition then must be returned to the county clerk by July 14 and must be signed by approximately 55 valid, qualified voters of any party or affiliation (based on 2 percent of the number having voted in that general election four years ago). No voter can validly sign more than one candidate’s petition for the same office.
May 27 is the last day for affiliated voters to change or withdraw their party affiliation in order to vote in a specific party primary on June 28. An unaffiliated or independent voter, in order to participate in the primary election, may affiliate with a party at any time before and through the day of the primary election.
County assemblies, since they are not all the same day and time around the state and region, may involve presentations from regional and state level candidates or their representatives.
Area state and regional offices up for re-election this year include State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, Hot Sulfur Springs (Senate District 8), State Rep. Bob Rankin, Carbondale (House District 57), and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, Cortez (Congressional District 3), all Republicans, as well as Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver.
Rio Blanco County Republicans will elect 12 delegates plus alternates to attend their State Assembly and Convention, held in Colorado Springs on April 9.
County Democrats will elect four delegates plus alternates to the Democratic State Assembly and Convention in Loveland on April 16. State Assembly/Convention delegates vote for regional and state-level candidates and the presidential candidates, and for the delegates who will represent Colorado at the national party conventions this summer.
For more information, contact Logan Hill, county GOP chair at 970-629-3389; Paula Davis, county Democratic chair at 970-629-5729; or County Clerk Boots Campbell at 970-878-9460.