DENVER — Colorado Republicans will decide Saturday whether to cancel their primaries and instead move to a caucus system.
The discussion stems back to a 2016 decision by Coloradans to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in the party primary process.
Proposition 108 allowed unaffiliated voters to be sent the primary ballots for both the Republican and Democratic parties. The voter would then have the ability to choose one primary to participate in. If they returned both ballots, both would be discounted.
This voting block is largely consequential throughout the state and its impact is growing.
“Unaffiliated voters now count for just over 40% of the registered voters in Colorado, which is a big chunk,” said Robert Preuhs, the chair of the political science department for Metropolitan State University of Denver. “It’s actually the largest single voting block within Colorado in terms of registered voters.”
However, some Republicans worry that the semi-open primary allows outside influences to help determine which nominees are ultimately selected.
So, on Saturday, the Republican State Central Committee, which consists of approximately 500 people, will vote on whether to cancel the party’s primaries. The group consists of statewide elected officials and members selected by individual counties.
Rep. Dave Williams, R-El Paso, is one of the voices pushing for a move away from the primary process.
“Open primaries are notoriously bad for Republicans,” Williams said. “You run the risk of allowing the other major party to interfere in the nomination process and open the door for a weaker candidate in the general election."
He likens the idea to letting the Las Vegas Raiders come in and pick who the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos is going to be and says in the two primaries since 2016, left-leaning organizations have spent money trying to influence the outcome.
“You have dark money outside groups that come in and spend hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars to influence who the nominees will be, and they do that by targeting these unaffiliated voters and marketing to them.”
Another concern is that unaffiliated voters will choose the candidate that least represents the party’s platforms and is more moderate or more willing to go along with the other side’s ideas.
Williams worries the process could hurt the chances of more conservative candidates like himself and Congresswoman Lauren Boebert.
However, other Republicans disagree and say the current primary process should remain in place.
Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Douglas, says he doesn’t like the semi-open primaries but he also doesn’t want to take away the ability for Republican voters to weigh in on who the party’s nominees should be.
If the primary was to be canceled, a group of delegates would be selected to attend an assembly to pick the party’s nominees.
“There isn’t an option where unaffiliated won’t be allowed to vote and allow Republicans could vote,” Holbert said. “I have a responsibility to represent over one million registered Republican voters in the state, not 500 of us who get to make this decision, but over one million people who live in Colorado who are registered Republicans, and my view is, I want to make sure they have the right to vote next June.”
Williams disagrees and says if people are that interested in participating in the process, they are welcome to switch their party affiliation.
He doesn’t see anything wrong with delegates choosing the nominees instead of Republican voters since they will have a chance to weigh in on who the precinct leaders or delegates are.
“There are clear dividing lines shaping up here. There are establishment high-priced consultants and party bosses that are coming out against the soft out and quite frankly it’s because they support the open primaries because win or lose they still get paid,” Williams said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Buck has also spoken out against canceling the primaries. While he says he believes the discussion is worth having within the party, he believes this is an important moment for the Republican party.
“In my opinion, it is a bad move to opt out of the primary because this is a critical time in American history. We have a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, we have a crisis at our border, we have inflation, we have so many issues that I believe Republicans need to stand united and present better options,” Buck said.
Meanwhile, Preuhs says canceling the primaries could have a big impact in the nomination process since the types of people who participate in caucuses are different than primaries.
The people who typically participate in caucuses tend to me much more engaged in the party’s politics but also more ideological and likely lean further to the right.
There is also the challenge of appealing to unaffiliated voters after kicking them out of the nomination process.
“Primaries engage voters and so if you do not have a primary, you are missing out on that opportunity to really reach out and that’s the very least cue unaffiliated voters to think about Republican candidates,” Preuhs said.
Preuhs says people who have voted in a primary are more likely participate in the general election and more interested to see how the nominee they selected does.
The reality is, though, primaries have a lower voter turnout overall and unaffiliated voters have been less likely to participate. Preuhs says many unaffiliated voters might not even notice that they were excluded.
There is also a very steep threshold for the Republican State Central Committee to reach in order to cancel the primary. Proposition 108 specified that at least 75% of the entire committee must be in favor of the move or it fails.
Instead of canceling the primary, Holbert believes the party should discuss the possibility of a legal challenge on the constitutionality of Proposition 108. Williams agrees that a lawsuit is a logical next step.
For Preuhs, the discussion and divisions within political parties like what is happening with the GOP are not necessarily new, but these debates could play an important role in shaping the future.