Your participation needed in presidential caucuses

Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 3:00 PM

We've watched the political action in Iowa and New Hampshire. Our turn is coming on Tuesday, March 1, in Colorado.

That's when we have precinct caucuses, the first step to determine which presidential wannabees will get Colorado delegates for the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

So what is a precinct caucus anyway? Basically, it's a neighborhood meeting. Both parties have them. Many of them are held in schools, libraries, churches, other public buildings, and sometimes in peoples' homes.

You need to have been registered with one of the parties by Jan. 4 to attend your party's caucus.

After that, your next step is to determine which precinct you live in, presumably reflected on your voter registration. The County Clerk's Office also should be able to tell you that. Next, you need to check with the party's county organization to find the location of your caucus. See the list of caucus locations for the Vallecito, Bayfield, and Ignacio areas in today's paper.

Finally, you'll need to actually roust out of the house after dark, and maybe in bad weather, to show up at the caucus. They might have coffee and cookies.

At the caucus, participants will do a show of hands or divide into groups according to which candidate they support. That determines the number of delegates for that candidate at the parties' county assemblies, which in turn will determine delegates to the state assemblies and the national conventions. At each level, delegates to the next level are selected.

The caucuses also are the first vetting for congressional, state, and local candidates.

Even with higher participation in recent years, the caucuses draw a tiny percentage of registered voters. It can be the most extreme partisans that bother to show up, which can mean the most extreme candidates get nominated.

For the good of the country, the moderate majority in each party needs to turn out as well, especially if they are disgusted with the current political process. It's up to you.

A note for independents - being registered with a party or going to their caucus doesn't mean you have to vote for their candidates in the fall election. And you can change your party affiliation whenever you want. You're not locked in.

I don't care for the caucus system, because it skews the parties toward the extremes. I'd rather have presidential primaries, where people can vote at their convenience on the day, or even by mail.

We do have primaries now in Colorado, but they happen later in the process after the caucuses and county assemblies and are for congressional, state, and local candidates.

One time, Colorado had a presidential primary in March instead of caucuses. On the Republican side, George W. Bush was announced as the settled nominee a few days before Colorado's primary, so there was no point voting in that one. A lot of people didn't, and next time we were back to the caucus system.

That would be worth revisiting before the next presidential election comes around in 2020.