Shy person's Feb. 5 caucus guide 

If all goes as planned on Feb. 5, the results from Colorado's Democratic and Republican caucuses will become part of the buzz about who has momentum and whose campaign manager should get fired.

Competitive races on both sides have many wanting to participate. But faced with the complexities of the caucus system, and murmurs about stirring speeches and persuasive cliques, some are stuck with questions about how to be involved and, well, whether they really want to be.

Can I caucus?

If you are unaffiliated, or alternately affiliated, you won't be able to participate. (For the county's 452 active Libertarians and 156 active Greens: that means you.) And you had to be registered with the appropriate party by Dec. 5 to qualify.

If you don't have a voter card, there are many places to find out when you registered and what your precinct number is. That information gets updated in some places faster than others, so check another source if your first draws a blank.

Start with the secretary of state's Web site (sos.state.co.us), where through the "Elections Voter Information" link, you can find your party affiliation, registration date and precinct number. Note: The 10-digit number actually gives you your Congressional district and state House and Senate districts, but you only need to look at the last three digits to get the number of your precinct.

Party officials also can help you find your registration information: El Paso County Republicans, gopelpaso.com, 578-0022; El Paso County Democratic Party, peakdems.org, 473-8713. Their county offices list the locations of caucuses by precinct number on their Web sites.

You can also get registration info and caucus locations at the El Paso Clerk and Recorder's Office, 575-VOTE (8683).

Should I caucus?

Party officials emphatically say yes. There are about 4,000 precincts in Colorado and 387 in El Paso County. The caucuses are separate meetings of registered Democrats and Republicans in these precincts, at which attendees select delegates and discuss priorities for their party platform. Chosen delegates go on to nominate local and state candidates for the state's August primary election at county and statewide assemblies.

This year, larger-than-normal crowds are expected as the parties conduct preference polls for presidential candidates near the beginning of their meetings, with some folks staying for the whole thing.

Republicans will open with a straw poll, in which caucus-goers will vote for their preferred candidates on printed ballots. The results can be sent up the party hierarchy, and a statewide "winner" announced among GOP candidates.

Democrats plan a slightly more complicated approach. If and when someone calls for a straw poll, caucus-goers will physically divide up according to their candidate preference. If any candidate gets less than 15 percent of this "vote," the candidate will become un-viable, and his or her supporters will be able to switch to another group.

Things could get noisy as supporters of a viable candidate try to convince others to join their side, but the result after everyone has chosen a candidate or decided to abstain will be varying numbers of supporters for candidates X, Y and possibly Z. The percentages will determine how many delegates from each precinct will go to the county convention in support of each candidate.

Perhaps more importantly, the raw number of supporters will be added up for the county and then the state to determine who "wins" in Colorado.

Let party officials reassure you: If you don't want to change sides or speak in favor of a candidate, nobody will make you.

How do I caucus?

Again, check with the Clerk and Recorder or your party to find out if you are properly registered and where your caucus will be. The caucuses begin at 7 p.m., and most party officials recommend getting there up to a half-hour early.

We wish you luck ... but you really shouldn't need it.



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