Two political scientists at Colorado College made the case in The Sunday Denver Post that lawmakers should open up the next presidential primary in this state to wider voter participation. But Thomas E. Cronin and Robert D. Loevy aren’t just lonely voices in the wilderness in this belief. Others have raised similar questions over the years about the wisdom of relying on a low-turnout caucus system to select the parties’ presidential favorites. Indeed, a group known as Colorado Open Voting is hoping to reform the caucus system this year through legislation, according to spokesman Curtis Hubbard — if sponsors can be found at the Capitol. Let’s hope lawmakers step up and a resulting bill reflects some of the principles espoused by Cronin and Loevy. The present system in which a relatively small slice of activists attend local caucuses to determine the presidential candidate that each party supports has the effect of limiting both public interest and participation — as well as the influence of Colorado in the presidential selection process.
Cronin and Loevy advocate what’s known as a semi-open primary in which unaffiliated voters can vote either in the Republican or Democratic primary (but of course not both). Such a system is employed in a number of a states, including North Carolina, New Hampshire and Illinois.
There are two other options for Colorado if it moved from its caucus system to a presidential primary (which the state actually had in 1992, 1996 and 2000, before lawmakers eliminated it to save money). Lawmakers also could choose a closed primary, limited to voters registered with a particular party, or an open primary in which any voter could cast a ballot in any party’s primary.
Neither of those options is ideal. The open primary could allow partisans on one side to try to game the other party’s results. But a closed primary also would be less than optimal, because it would keep out the biggest chunk of voters in Colorado — the unaffiliateds, who make up more than a third of the electorate.