Michelle Weisblat-Dane led Precinct 744 Democrats in Manitou Springs through the caucus process on March 1. She didn't enjoy it very much.
In a formal complaint to the Democratic National Committee, which she shared with the Independent, she goes into the reasons why. She describes parking that was insufficient and confusing, and says the classroom where her precinct met (which normally accommodates about 30 students) was stuffed with 91 people. She also says the process of assigning delegates was initially unclear.
"[S]upporters of both Sanders and Clinton were so let down by the Democratic National Committee of El Paso County's handling of the March 1 caucus that our precinct voted 91-0 to do away with the potential benefits afforded by a caucus process by having a traditional primary election with mail-in voting," she wrote.
While Weisblat-Dane's specific experience may not have been shared by other precincts, it's fair to say that many others were displeased by the caucus process as well.
In fact, The Denver Post reports that party leaders are busy drafting legislation to be included in this session of the Colorado Legislature, switching the state to a presidential preference primary while maintaining the caucus system for state and local candidates. Meanwhile, Let Colorado Vote, a group started by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, is working to put a citizen initiative on the ballot to let unaffiliated voters participate in primaries. Both parties oppose that move.
Annie Schmitt, El Paso County Democratic Party executive director, says she received many resolutions aimed at switching from a caucus to a presidential preference primary — something she also supports. The problem, she says, is that caucuses are difficult to organize, and this year's caucus attracted far more participation than expected.
"The caucus process is sort of, I've been telling people, it's like chaos by design," Schmitt says. She adds that while nearly 10 percent of the county's approximately 90,000 Democrats participated in the caucus — a record high — the caucus process still leaves many people "feeling disenfranchised and like they're not being heard."
Local Republicans seem to agree. Daniel Cole, executive director of El Paso County Republicans, says 35 of the county's 242 precincts voted to do away with the caucus process, while only one resolution supported caucuses.
"More than 90 percent of Colorado Republicans never participate in the caucus process," he stated in a press release. "I would expect them to prefer a primary, but it's remarkable that so many caucus participants would also like to see a change."
While not specified in the resolutions, it's worth noting that Republicans this year did away with a nonbinding straw poll, which at least would have signaled which presidential candidate caucusing locals favored. Losing the straw poll led some participants to feel their participation didn't count for much. Democrats kept their poll, and Bernie Sanders prevailed.
There were other caucus problems in the state. The Denver Post reports hundreds were turned away from overcrowded caucuses, including in Boulder, where some Democratic caucus-goers waited in a line stretching four blocks before being turned away. In other places, caucuses were moved outdoors due to overcrowding.
Colorado conducted presidential preference primaries in 1992, 1996 and 2000 before switching back to the caucus system so that the state could avoid paying millions in costs for the elections. Parties pay the cost of caucuses.
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