We're still five months away from 2012, but that doesn't stop the political world from looking ahead to the upcoming election year.
Two issues already are up for debate, in Colorado and here in El Paso County. One is whether the state's Republicans will alter their planned calendar by moving up their party caucuses four weeks, from March 6 to Feb. 7. The other question, brought up last week by county clerk and recorder Wayne Williams, is whether to conduct the June 26 primary as a mail-only or a polling-place election.
Let's take these one at a time. First, the caucuses:
Colorado's predetermined 2012 election calendar established the caucuses on March 6, which appears to coincide with the party's likely Super Tuesday; many other states will conduct their presidential primaries that day. Already, the state's Democrats have said they will caucus on March 6, but they have no reason to change. Without even a U.S. Senate candidate to support (Sen. Mark Udall comes up for re-election in 2014 and Sen. Michael Bennet in 2016), the Dems will simply rubber-stamp President Barack Obama and choose their county assembly delegates.
It's different for the Republicans, who are looking at a heated race for the GOP presidential nomination. With a handful of states already planning February primaries, and more perhaps moving up to February or even January, Colorado's Republican leaders are concerned that the nominee might be locked in before March 6. So they're considering a jump up to Feb. 7, when this state's outcome (while not the same as actual primary results) would matter more.
That decision will be based on the presidential race, but it also could have an impact at the local level. We've been hearing more and more about the possibility of Republican state legislators, and perhaps county commissioners, facing primary opponents.
In the past, GOP incumbents could sail through and save their campaign money for later. But if whispers become reality, this county's Republican ballot could have a handful of contested primary races. And the caucuses would be the first opportunity for challengers to make an impact, to try to get their supporters chosen as delegates to the county assembly. So, candidates opposing, say, state Rep. Amy Stephens or County Commissioners Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey would have to move faster in order to use the caucuses to their benefit.
We'll know the answer by Oct. 1 at the latest. My guess is that Colorado Republicans will be antsy enough to move earlier, and it's hard to blame them. But they also might remember 2008, when Mitt Romney pulled 60 percent of the state's caucus support to just 18 percent for Sen. John McCain. And we know how that one turned out.
Now, what kind of primary election does El Paso County want?
It's almost a moot point, because 63 percent of the county's registered voters already have opted for permanent mail-ballot status. For the other 37 percent, the choices are to send them mail ballots or allow them to vote at polling places. A public-comment period extends for two more weeks, before commissioners decide on Aug. 18.
Since saving money is an issue, but so many residents still prefer to vote the old-fashioned way, here's another option:
Mail ballots to everyone who asks for them. But on the June 26 primary election day, instead of going to the trouble of having 102 polling places, why not reduce the locations sharply? This county has five commissioner districts, divided fairly evenly by population. So what would be wrong with having two voting centers per commissioner district, 10 in all, that are well-staffed and offer more voting booths at each location? And on election day, all voting centers would be able to accept drop-off mail ballots (put into different boxes to avoid processing confusion).
The whole idea, after all, is for our elections to be as convenient and cost-effective as possible. It simply shouldn't have to be so black-and-white, 102 polling places or none. And if that would work for the primary, it could work for the November general election.
Regardless of how these questions pan out, 2012 shapes up to be a fascinating year, and participation should be as vital as ever.
So why not give the voters as many options as possible?