- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

Colorado’s harried presidential caucuses last month could be the last. A bipartisan slate of state lawmakers announced plans Thursday to return to a presidential preference primary for 2020.

Colorado has simply outgrown precinct caucuses for the top office in the nation, lawmakers said. Last month’s caucuses drew complaints from party members in both camps. Democrats complained of long lines; Republicans griped that they weren’t taking a presidential poll.

“We’re going to replace long lines, bad parking and disenfranchising voters with a ballot in your mailbox,” said Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver.

Presidential primaries in concept have the support of the state’s Democratic and Republican parties. But things get more complicated when the discussion moves to allowing participation by unaffiliated voters - about 37 percent of all Colorado voters, more than belong to either party.

The legislative plan, which hadn’t been introduced Thursday, would allow voters one-step temporary affiliation. That is, voters would get postcards in the mail asking if they want to temporarily choose a party for the primary. That affiliation would end 30 days after the vote.

Lawmakers called the vanishing party affiliation plan an important step toward increasing participation in the primaries.

“Coloradans are demanding more inclusion in the presidential primary,” said Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth.

Some open-primary backers say that doesn’t go far enough. Voting-access advocacy group Let Colorado Vote plans to ask voters about presidential primaries in which unaffiliated voters would get primary ballots from both parties; they could simply choose which one to mail back.

“Why should the state’s 1 million independent voters be required to take steps not required of other voters?” the group asked in a written statement.

But Colorado’s top elections official, Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams, called the pick-one primary plan unworkable.

“There are a high number of individuals who would respond by sending them both back, disqualifying them,” Williams said.

No matter the mechanism, legislative analysts say it costs several million dollars to run a presidential primary. That’s because the parties pay for caucuses, but taxpayers foot the bill for a statewide election.

Williams estimated the price would be $5 million to $7 million, depending how it worked.

Both parties say they want to retain neighborhood precinct caucuses for local and statewide elections, all the way up to governor. Colorado currently runs a hybrid caucus-primary system for those races, where caucus-goers choose candidates for ballots, with statewide primaries in late June. The presidential proposals would not change the process for those races.


Kristen Wyatt can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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