Ten years have passed since more than 25 percent of registered voters turned out for a primary election in Routt County. Republican primary turnout has been as low as 12 percent in 1996, and Democratic primary turnout has been as low as 6 percent in 2000.
Primary elections, while not as high profile as general elections, can be just as important, especially when the county and state have a number of contested inter-party races. Beginning Monday, residents can vote early in the Aug. 10 Democratic and Republican primaries. We hope it starts a steady, strong flow of voters to the ballot box.
Republican voters have four contested races to decide, including U.S. Senate, Congressional District 3 and two county commissioner races. Democrats have two contested races -- Congressional District 3 and the University of Colorado Board of Regents.
Neither the U.S. Senate race nor the Congressional District 3 race involves an incumbent. Considering that re-election rates to the U.S. House and Senate are greater than 90 percent, voters have the rarest of opportunities to influence significant change in Colorado's congressional delegation.
The reason voter participation in primary elections is so important is because of what happens when such participation is minimal. Primaries often attract the most staunch party followers and activists. By their very nature those tend to be on the extremes of the party -- the most conservative members of the Republican Party and the most liberal members of the Democratic Party.
Such a narrow sampling of voters doesn't always produce candidates who truly reflect the ideals, philosophies, values and interests of a majority of the registered voters. Too often, moderates and independents sit out the party primaries only to discover too late that they don't like their November choices
Low primary participation only reinforces the divisive partisanship and further sours our nation's increasingly fragile political culture. Unfortunately, our national political malady also can diminish political participation at the local level by alienating voters and creating an atmosphere of frustration, mistrust and anger. Don't let our national discontent diminish your interest in important regional and local issues.
There is amazing diversity among the candidates on both party primary ballots. For U.S. Senate, Republicans have a choice between beer magnate Pete Coors, a moderate, and more socially conservative former Congressman Bob Schaffer. Democrats will choose between State Attorney General Ken Salazar, a moderate, and education administrator Mike Miles, who is more liberal.
Republicans have a challenge in deciding the Congressional District 3 race. With five candidates running -- Greg Walcher, Matt Smith, Dan Corsentino, Gregg Rippy and Matt Aljanich -- it's hard for any one individual to establish himself as the frontrunner or develop a distinct and recognizable political personality. The winner will have to face Democrat John Salazar, who has the benefit of greater name recognition thanks to his brother, the aforementioned state attorney general. All the more reason for Republicans to participate in the primaries.
Finally, there are the local races for county commissioner. Party politics matter little at the county level, yet the party process remains the means for choosing our local leaders. It's hard to get elected commissioner without winning a party primary, and it's hard to have influence on local races without voting in one.
Party primaries matter to all of us. The decisions on which candidates make it to the November ballot shouldn't be left to less than one-fourth of the county's voters. Do your part -- get educated, get active and vote in a party primary.