On September 18, the Republican Party is poised to make a decision that risks relegating it to permanent minority party status in Colorado politics by limiting its nominating process to the vote of a mere 4,000 people. I am a Colorado Republican and I want my party to save our state from its current liberty and public safety death spiral. This is not the way to do it.
I speak from a position of having actively participated in our assembly process since I was eighteen, both as an attendee and as a candidate. I have been the top-line vote-getter at three Republican assemblies. I have been unsuccessfully primaried once after winning the assembly. In 2018, despite earning more votes than any other Colorado Republican running for a state constitutional office ever, I lost my bid for attorney general in the greatest Blue tsunami we have seen. That loss had nothing to do with our open primary process.
To be clear: I do not agree with allowing people who reject wearing a team’s jersey to have a say in who will be that team’s captains. However, it is undeniable that taxpayers who fund the primary election should have a say in how it is conducted. And they have made their voices heard loud and clear.
In 2016, Colorado voters — not politicians — launched a ballot measure to have presidential primaries and to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in them. Voters approved it nearly two to one. That same year, another citizen-initiated ballot measure (again, not the political elite in the legislature) that opened major party primaries to unaffiliated voters also easily passed.
If a major political party wants a primary for which they alone set the rules, then we must pay for it ourselves. Yet, even if Republicans could, we should not for several reasons that all lead back to one goal: winning at the ballot box.
The notion that Republicans’ lack of electoral success since 2018 in Colorado is attributable to open primaries and all of the conspiracy theories that flow from them is contrary to facts. Both major parties have lost voter share since well before the era of open primaries. From 2010 to 2016, Republican’s share of registered voters tumbled six points from 38% to 32%. Over that same period, unaffiliated voters grew by six points up to 35%. Since the adoption of open primaries, the GOP has lost another six points down to 26%. Democrats have dropped to 29% over the same period. The trend towards voters choosing free agency over team affiliation long pre-dates open primaries.
Pragmatically, each major party’s primary ballot is sent to all active unaffiliated voters. That is 1.65 million potential general election voters. If the GOP opts out of the primary, their candidates’ names will appear on a mere 4,000 assembly-goer-only ballots. That is 3/10th of 1% of registered Republicans choosing the party’s standard-bearers.
Hello? Name-ID, anyone? Even if many of those receiving primary ballots will not vote in the Republican primary, those folks are going to get a general election ballot. They will be given only one choice for participation in a primary — the Democratic Party. Common sense and studies demonstrate that once a voter has committed to a primary candidate, that commitment lasts throughout the general election.
The message that will be received by 99.96% of registered Republicans and those unaffiliated voters critical to winning any statewide office is clear: we do not want or value your input. The logic of allowing only the most active .4% of Republicans to choose a statewide candidate who is tasked with appealing to more than 50% of all voters is lost on me.
An additional argument leveled by the “let 4,000 choose” coalition is that opting out of the primary would cut off the potential influence on elections of the most hyper-partisan secretary of state in our state’s history, Jenna Griswold. Spoiler alert: elections are run and votes are counted by county clerks. Republicans occupy 38 of Colorado’s 63 elected clerks (Broomfield is appointed) — that’s 60%. Democrats fill only 18. If there is evidence that the secretary of state has successfully meddled in primary elections since 2016, that evidence has yet to be revealed.
Finally, in an April 2016 Wall Street Journal column, a persuasive, grass roots, first-time politician openly supported Colorado’s open primary and condemned those who canceled it. “The only antidote to decades of ruinous rule by a small handful of elites is a bold infusion of popular will,” he said. “My campaign will seek…maximum voter participation. We will run a campaign based on empowering voters, not sidelining them.”
The Colorado Republican Party should heed those wise words from candidate Donald J. Trump. The only path to victory is to convince more Colorado voters, not to sideline all but 4,000 through an outdated nominating process.
George Brauchler is the former district attorney for the 18th Judicial District.
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