Routt County's political parties held caucuses Tuesday night.
The Republicans followed tradition, meeting in small groups at homes and businesses in each of the 20 precincts in the county. At these meetings, delegates were selected for the Republican county assembly to be held May 5. The Democrats essentially threw in the towel on the caucuses, combining them with the party's assembly in one gathering at Olympian Hall.
The different approaches produced different results for the two parties. While the Republicans will field a full slate of local candidates in the 2002 elections, the Democrats likely will field none, even though there are nearly as many registered Democrats as there are Republicans.
There are those who believe it is time to do away with Colorado's caucus system, at least as a means of nominating candidates. Opponents of the system argue it is an archaic process used by only two states Colorado and Connecticut and that fewer and fewer people participate. They say the lack of participation has increasingly ceded control of the caucuses to extreme segments of the parties that don't reflect the views of most voters.
The opponents are correct most caucuses are attended by only a handful of people. A 2000 survey showed that about 2 percent of Republicans and less than 1 percent of Democrats participated in local caucuses.
But is low participation a sign of a broken process or general apathy?
Currently, caucuses are used to select delegates to the county, district and state assemblies. These delegates, in turn, play a key role in selecting party nominees for elected positions. Candidates must get at least 30 percent of the delegates at the assembly to make it onto the primary ballot. Candidates who don't get enough delegates can still get on the ballot through a petition process.
The Bighorn Center, a nonpartisan public policy organization in Denver, wants to do away with the delegate system of nominating candidates and go to a pure petition system. The center is pushing for a ballot initiative to change the election code so that the caucuses would no longer play a role in the candidate nomination and selection process.
But lack of participation seems like a bad reason to change the process. Voter turnout at elections is embarrassingly low and getting lower, but that's not an excuse to do away with the election process. Instead, we should be working to educate, inform and increase voter turnout.
The same is true of the caucus system. The local caucuses are open to all. They grant individual voters access to the political process at a very basic, fundamental level, whether they are advocates for a specific issue or candidate.
The Bighorn Center argues the caucus system is confusing and results in candidates and platforms that don't represent the views of most Coloradans. Maybe the center is right. But if that's the case, it seems the group's time and money would be better spent trying to engage people in the system rather than trying to eliminate it.