While Democrats and Republicans may disagree on a wide range of policy issues, voters gathered for caucuses Tuesday evening in Longmont generally agreed on a couple of things: Members of both of the major political parties called for more participation in the electoral process and less divisiveness in political discourse.
“We are in such a volatile situation right now where people think it’s OK to hate someone just because they believe differently,” Boulder County Republican Chairwoman Peg Cage said prior to addressing a group of roughly 30 voters caucusing at Longmont’s Westview Middle School. “It’s just wrong.”
Several on hand echoed her sentiment.
“I think people are people, and most of the people I talk (to) — whether Democrat or Republican — they are willing to listen and discuss,” voter Kent Caldwell said. “But if people are just yelling and screaming, you can’t have that discussion.”
Meanwhile, just down the road at Longmont Estates Elementary School, about 125 Democrats were meeting.
The level of divisiveness in politics “is upsetting to the bone,” said Karen McCormick, a Longmont veterinarian who is challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, just after she addressed the group of voters.
“I’m running to bring more compassion and collaboration back to our government,” she said. ” … I want to bridge this divide — great ideas come from Republicans and great ideas come from Democrats.”
While voters caucused in Longmont, similar meetings were occurring at venues around the state.
The main purpose of the caucus is to select delegates who will ultimately determine which people from their party seeking federal, state and county government offices get to advance to the Republican and Democratic primary elections.
Participation was down compared to 2016, a presidential election year that saw Boulder County caucus-goers turned away because of large crowds and long lines.
Voters in Longmont caucuses for both parties stressed the importance of political participation, especially in midterm election years.
McCormick called the caucus process “grassroots at its best,” but added that “one of the issues that we have is we don’t (have) enough people participating.”
At the Republican caucus, David Brown urged attendees to “stay engaged.”
“There are many different roles and ways you can participate — even if it’s just an hour a week,” he said.
In order to participate in their parties’ precinct caucus votes, people had to be listed on voter-registration roles as being affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party holding that person’s party caucus as of Jan. 8. And they must attend the specific neighborhood caucus for the precinct they were registered as living in as of Feb. 5.
The next steps in the candidate selection process are the county, legislative district, congressional district and state assemblies.
However, candidates can choose to bypass the caucus-and-assembly process and try to gather enough signatures to petition their way onto their party’s primary ballot. Candidates were allowed to begin collecting signatures Jan. 16 and petitions must be submitted by March 20, according to the Colorado Secretary of State.
State assemblies will be held April 14, primary elections June 26 and the general election is set for Nov. 6.
Turnout ‘much lower than expected’
The ballot in Colorado this year is still a significant one, and the gubernatorial race was top of mind at the caucuses. Longtime Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat, is running for the seat, along with 33 others who’ve filed to run.
Inside fire stations, schools and retirement homes, representatives of 235 precincts gathered to caucus in Boulder County. The vast majority of them were middle-aged or seniors.
Some sites, such as Boulder High School — the largest of 33 Democratic caucus locations in the county — saw a sizable turnout, though there were still plenty of empty seats.
Meanwhile, at Fairview High School, an 18-precinct GOP site, a total of eight Republicans showed up, said Marshall Dawson, a district caption for the county Republicans.
“We had more people pre-register than actually showed up,” he said. “I don’t have an answer for that.”
For the Democrats, turnout was “much lower than expected,” said Ellen Burnes, chair of the county Democratic Party. Just before caucusing began, she said by phone that 4,300 had preregistered, and that she was hoping 10,000 or more would show up.
The county Democrats had 3,500 participants on Tuesday night, she said, compared with more than 20,000 two years ago.
Many do not like the caucus system and the long lines in 2016 were followed by calls for its banishment. Some have described it as fundamentally undemocratic because it excludes single parents and working-class voters who can’t make it to their caucus location during the short participation window.
But for those who do turn out, caucusing gives party members the chance to voice their support for candidates within their party.
As of late Tuesday night, Boulder County preference poll results had not been released. County Republicans took a straw poll, and are expected to release their results Wednesday. The full list of people elected as precinct leaders won’t be available for a few days.
Caucuses also give participants the opportunity to select precinct captains who will help lead political efforts in their area. Burnes said the party is hopeful that it will get a more diverse and demographically representative set of precinct captains than it’s had in years previous.
“We’re hoping to get better coverage in the county that reflects the diversity of our population,” she said.
As of now, Boulder County’s elected officials certainly don’t reflect the area’s diversity; 104 of 108 are white, according to the Community Foundation.
The Democrats who did show up Tuesday night were adamant about the importance of participating.
Boulder Democrat Kathleen Sullivan, caucusing for gubernatorial candidate and Polis rival Cary Kennedy, said, “In our current political milieu that we’re in, I can’t imagine not coming to caucus this year. It’s just insane. Of course, we live in a very blue city in a very blue area, but we can’t assume anything at this point. Our democracy is at stake.”
Said Craig Yager: “The country needs a resurgence of Democratic activities … and building a base through caucuses is a good way for us to have input into the direction the Democratic party is going, so I want to be a part of that.”
Grace Yanez, who was caucusing for the first time, added: “I’m mainly interested in creating a larger diversity in this area.”
At Fairview, Dawson said that the low turnout belied an enthusiasm he’s observed among his local party peers.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “I think Republicans are really excited about this cycle, to be honest. Countywide, people are really excited about what’s happened over the last year and a half. It’s been far better than we could have imagined.”