Constitutional Law, Elections, Gold Dome, Peter Blake, Politics

Blake: Let the unaffiliated affiliate!

File photo - Todd Shepherd
File photo – Todd Shepherd

Lawmakers and citizen reformers are struggling to come up with legislation that would make it easier for unaffiliated voters to participate in Colorado’s primary elections.

There are now more unaffiliated voters than Republicans or Democrats, they note, and yet the unaffiliated don’t have a chance to pick nominees for president and other major statewide offices.

If this is a problem, it’s of their own making. There’s a simple solution: Affiliate! They’re regularly invited to do that by the secretary of state.

If they don’t like the Republicans or Democrats, they can sign up with minor parties, such as the Green, Libertarian or the American Constitution. Or with a “qualified political organization” such as the Unity Party.

Or they can form their own organization. How one does that is spelled out on the secretary of state’s Web site.

But most of them don’t. Apparently they don’t want their reputations stained or their hands soiled by having their names identified with any political organization. Or perhaps they are relatively passive and willing to have more knowledgeable or more enthusiastic people pick the nominees from which they get to choose.

It’s okay to be unaffiliated. But that doesn’t entitle you to pick a party’s nominee.

The impetus for the pending reforms in the General Assembly or on the fall ballot stems from what was widely seen as a disastrous caucus night for both parties in March.

The Democrats found long lines, a lack of parking and considerable confusion at their caucuses. Attendance at Republican caucuses was depressed because the party declined to hold straw polls that let attendees indicate their preference for president.

But those weren’t failures of the system. They reflected bad management by both parties.

True, the Americans With Disabilities Act makes it impossible to hold caucuses in private homes any longer, as they were into the 1980s. But that doesn’t mean you have to cram more than 40 caucuses into a single high school, as the Democrats did around the metro area. No wonder there was confusion. Next time, maybe the party will make more sites, and more parking, available. That would be a smart promise by whoever wants to succeed Rick Palacio as state chairman.

The Republicans can simply reinstate the straw poll they used for a few cycles when Dick Wadhams was chairman. The state drew national attention in those years.

gopelephantnewThere’s a bigger question, and that is: Why is the state involved in the primary system at all? Parties are private organizations. Or are supposed to be.

The fact that unaffiliated voters have to help pay for the big parties’ primaries is what’s driving Let Colorado Vote, a group preparing several ballot issues for November. Presumably they’ll settle on only one eventually.

“The dividing line is we think the independent voters who are being asked to pay for the election need to be treated like all the other voters in that election and get a mailed ballot,” said Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for the group, which is composed of a couple of business organizations.

Right or wrong, the unaffiliated are likely to win on this issue since their numbers are greater than the major parties.

Still the question remains, why should the state pay for primaries even if the unaffiliated can participate without making a commitment?

That issue was raised by a witness who testified in a House committee that first considered House Bill 1454, the legislature’s reform effort that is struggling to stay alive in the final days of the 2016 session.

Adam Ochs, an unsuccessful legislative candidate in 2012, said it is not the role of government to subsidize the operations of a political party, or to interfere in its operations.

donkeylogoTrue, most states do, but one of Let Colorado Vote’s proposals would allow the parties to go private and exclude unaffiliated voters. If a party so chooses it could ask its members at the 2018 election to close the primary ballot to the unaffiliated. Passage would require a two-thirds majority.

That may be unreasonable requirement, but it is not unreasonable for parties to restrict their elections to party members.

Presumably a party that chooses to pick its candidates without a state-paid election would choose candidates through conventions, assemblies and, if necessary, privately financed elections.


Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes once a week for Contact him at You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and


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