Steamboat Springs In an effort to improve participation in local politics, the Routt County Democratic Party is changing the way it nominates candidates for office.
The traditional caucus system is not working for the Democratic Party, said party chairman Ben Beall. The system does not include enough people and does not allow the party to open itself up to all of the opinions circulating throughout the county, he said.
"What's in state statutes doesn't work for the rural counties," Beall said.
So, on the evening of April 23, the local Democratic Party will be holding an assembly to nominate its candidates and is encouraging people from both parties and independents to show up. It will not be holding traditional caucuses this year.
The old system began with a local caucus process, in which a neighborhood group would meet at someone's house and nominate delegates who already knew who they were voting for, Beall said. The prospective candidates could not realistically visit each caucus in all 20 precincts, because the caucuses are held at the same time on the same day in every precinct. After the caucuses, the delegates and other party members would go to the assembly and cast their votes, which were basically already determined, Beall said.
As of March 13, there were 5,305 registered Republicans in Routt County, as compared to 4,138 Democrats. There were also 6,992 unaffiliated voters, according to the Routt County Clerk's office.
Those independents were probably what vaulted Democrats Jay Fetcher and Paul Ohri over their opponents in Routt County at the 2000 elections for seats in the state Legislature, although they lost the elections, Beall said. If the party can get those independent voters to vote Democrat, it may get a boost going into this year's elections.
At the assembly, the Democratic Party hopes to bring in new blood. The party will also have a vote drive at the assembly to get people registered, Beall said.
The Republican Party will be sticking with the old system, said party chairwoman Olive Morton. Morton said she thinks that system gives more of a voice to smaller rural areas, because people in places like Toponas can hold caucuses in their towns without having to come up to Steamboat. Those "grassroots" meetings allow each area to decide what it wants, Morton said. If they had to come to Steamboat, people who live in rural parts of the county might be less willing to participate, Morton said.
"It helps the people in the outlying areas get heard," Morton said.