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House candidate: Colorado needs to move to primary ballot

My caucus site at Needham Elementary was lively. And packed. Precinct participants crowded into three adjacent classrooms, with people squeezing into the tiny chairs, careful not to knock over the piles of papers, books, and art supplies. One group had to leave for the cafeteria. Another endured sweltering heat. The rooms filled with a wide variety of neighbors: college students and 80-year-olds attending their first caucus, devout Democrats, new Democrats, young parents, retired couples, and many curious onlookers.

And though the rooms were filled to the brim, many were absent. We missed seeing the college students who needed to work, military personnel overseas, parents who couldn't find a baby sitter, and some handicapped people who just couldn't navigate the crowds.

It's time to have a primary election in Colorado instead of a caucus.

Caucuses were designed as a grassroots entryway into the election. Folks sat at tables in a school gym or church hall and hashed out their differences. They discussed the candidates and issues, voted on their preference, then sent the tallies on to local headquarters. Many attendees had not heard much about the candidates before that evening, so happily absorbed all the information presented before making their choice. The conversation continued if they became delegates to the county, state, or national level.

But much has changed since those days. The advent of social media gave people access to more information than ever before. They have held their political discussions, friendly debates, and detail gathering many times before caucus night, usually arriving at that gym or hall armed with opinion and ready to vote. That need for neighborhood discourse does not seem as essential any more.

In 2014, Colorado embarked on a statewide mail-in ballot initiative. For many, it was a godsend, for they didn't have to take off work, or call a babysitter, or find a ride to the polling place. Pondering could be done at the kitchen table, weighing the pros and cons of candidates and issues with family, friends, or in total silence. The only time constraint was mailing or delivering the ballot within the voting window of time.

What if, during at least the presidential elections, Colorado had a primary instead of a caucus, giving everyone a voice in the election cycle? At the moment, Colorado requires county clerks to send out primary ballot in June for every contested election within a party; though that might be a minority of races, the county still pays for mailing all the ballots. Instead, the money spent on those ballots could be used for a primary in March, coinciding with the March 1 caucus date. That means all voices could be heard, Colorado would have a say in the presidential election, and national attention could focus on Western issues, such as water and transportation. Is a Western primary a solution?

Questions, of course, will arise: will the primary be held just during presidential election years? Would ballot measures, usually formulated in a caucus setting, still be suggested at the grass roots level? Would the primary have to be held in March or June? Will voting be just for registered Democrats and Republicans, or will the Unaffiliated be included as well?

Any process that includes more voters than it excludes, that encourages participation, and that gives Colorado a strong presence in the presidential election should be strongly considered. Primaries, not caucuses, at least in election years, will allow more Coloradoans to have their voices heard in a vital part of our political process.

Barbara McLachlan

Candidate, Colorado House District 59, Durango