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A guide to La Plata County caucuses

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Friday, March 2, 2018 9:47 PM
The La Plata County Republican Central Committee held a Republican caucus training session for about 30 volunteers on Thursday evening at the Durango Elks Lodge. Committee members include Treasurer Holly Hott, Vice Chairman Colton Black, Chairman Jim Harper, Second Vice Chairwoman Sarah Ferrell and former Chairman Travis Oliger.

Concern about La Plata County's land-use code rewrite and an effort to recall La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt may drive more Democrats and Republicans to the caucuses on Tuesday, local party officials say.

But the topics of the neighborhood-level meetings will focus on the coming November elections, particularly the crowded race for governor and challengers seeking to unseat Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Midterm caucuses tend to draw fewer people, but residents in both parties have noticed more political energy.

The La Plata County Republican Central Committee expects a turnout on par with a presidential year, said Sarah Ferrell, second vice chairwoman with the Republicans.

"A lot of people feel like they need to get involved," said spokesman Colton Black.

Black expects local Republicans will advocate to change how county commissioners are elected to provide better representation.

La Plata County Democrats expect a strong turnout because midterm elections could offer a chance to slow down President Donald Trump's trajectory on issues such as immigration, the environment, taxes and other politicized issues, said Dan Morgenstern, an executive committee member.

Jean Walter, chairwoman of the local Democratic party, expects between 40 to 60 percent of the 2016 turnout, based on state projections.

Morgenstern encourages residents who aren't familiar with the crowded governor's race or challengers seeking to replace Tipton to attend caucuses, where information will be presented about the candidates.

"It really is democracy at work at the grass-roots level," he said.

So to prepare you, here's what you need to know:

Q.: What are caucuses?A.: Caucuses are a gathering by precinct - La Plata County has 32 precincts - primarily at community buildings such as churches and schools. More than one precinct may convene at the same location, but they meet individually.

Caucuses are the first step in a process to put candidates on primary and general election ballots, help form party leadership for the next two years and are where resolutions that may eventually end up on state or national party platforms begin. Unlike primary and general elections, which are run by county clerks, caucuses are organized and run by the political parties, and each has its own rules.

Votes may be open or secret, depending on the precinct.

Q.: Who can attend caucuses?A.: The caucuses are open, so anyone can observe. Only voters registered with a party can vote, and they must show up to their assigned precinct to vote. Participants must be present to vote. If you're not registered to vote or are registered as unaffiliated, you're out of luck. The deadline to register was Jan. 8.

In 2016, Colorado law changed to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in the primaries in June for the first time. Unaffiliated voters will receive primary ballots for both the Republican and the Democrat races. If they return both ballots, neither vote will be counted.

Q.: What happens at a caucus?A.: Republicans and Democrats select delegates and alternates to attend county assemblies. During county assemblies, delegates vote on contested county-level races and select state delegates. At the state assemblies, delegates will vote on the candidates who will be on the statewide primary ballots. Candidates can also petition to get onto the primary ballot.

Democrats will poll caucus attendees on their preference for governor candidates. The votes will determine whether a candidate for governor receives delegates that will be sent to county assembly and how many.

"It's not binding, but there is a expectation that you will stick with your vote," Walter said.

Democratic caucus leaders are encouraged to take straw polls for all contested races.

"The idea is to provide candidates with helpful information," Walter said.

For example, four people are competing in the primary to challenge Tipton, and it could be a high-interest race, Morgenstern said.

La Plata County treasurer is the only county seat that will be contested in the primary. Both Democratic candidates - incumbent Allison Aichele and challenger Tim Walsworth - must receive 30 percent of the party's assembly vote at the March 17 county assembly to move on to the primary. If both receive 30 percent of the vote, they will both appear on the primary ballot in June.

If a candidate receives at least 10 percent of the assembly vote, the candidate may petition to continue to the primary. If the candidate receives less than 10 percent, he or she is eliminated from the process.

Republicans can take straw polls on candidates, but the votes will not determine what candidates get delegates.

Republicans interested in going to county assembly can make a case to support candidates based on their values, rather than backing a person at the caucus, Colorado Republican Party spokesman Daniel Cole said.

In addition to selecting delegates, the parties recruit volunteers to work as election judges.

The final part of the caucus is dedicated to resolutions and policy items voters would like to see their elected leaders pursue. Black expects Republicans to introduce resolutions to change how county commissioners are elected. Many rural La Plata County residents don't feel like they are represented equally, he said.

Each commissioner represents one of three districts in La Plata County, but currently, all eligible electors can vote for commissioners in all three districts. It's possible a resolution would advocate for district-specific elections, which would limit voters to voting only in the district they live within.

Any registered voter in attendance can submit a resolution, but it should be in writing.

Q.: What has changed this year?A.: Precinct boundaries shifted for a variety of reasons, and that may change where some voters will caucus. Some precincts were changed because they had too many active registered voters, said La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker. Lines were also adjusted to better coincide with school district and municipal boundaries in the county, she said. If voters have questions about their precinct, they can visit www.govotecolorado.com or call the Clerk and Recorder's Office at 382-6281.

Q.: How many delegates does each precinct send to its party's county assembly? A.: Democrats will send 200 delegates and Republicans will send 211.

Precincts sometimes find it difficult to elect enough delegates and alternates to meet their allotted number, so voters eager to participate in their party's decisions can move up the ladder by attending their caucus.

Q: Who are the candidates?Republicans

Governor: Stephen Barlock, Erich Braun, Cynthia Coffman, Lew Gaiter, Teri Kear, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell, Doug Robinson, Jim Rundberg and Walker Stapleton

State Treasurer: Brett Barkey, Justin Everett, Brita Horn, Polly Lawrence, Kevin Lundberg and Brian Watson.

Democrats

Congressional District 3: Diane Mitsch Bush, Karl Hanlon, Root Routledge and Arn Menconi.

Governor: Renee Blanchard, Adam Garrity, Noel Ginsburg, Moses Humes, Mike Johnston, Cary Kennedy, Donna Lynne, Jared Polis, Michael Schroeder and Erik Underwood.

Secretary of State: Jena Griswold, Gabriel McArthur and Phillip Villard.

Attorney General: Brad Levin, Amy Padden, Joseph Salazar and Phil Weiser.

State Treasurer: Bernard Douthit, Steve Lebsock, Charles Scheibe and David Young.

La Plata County Treasurer: Tim Walsworth and Allison Aichele

Candidate lists are based on the Colorado Secretary of State's website and media reports.

Election schedule

Precinct caucuses will be held at 7 p.m. March 6 at various locations. To determine your precinct number visit www.govotecolorado.com or call the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder's Office at 382-6281.La Plata County Democrats will hold the county assembly for the Democratic Party at 8:30 a.m. March 17 at Noble Hall Fort Lewis College. The La Plata County Republican Central Committee will hold its county assembly at 6 p.m. March 22 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds Main Exhibit Hall.

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