STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ballots for Colorado’s upcoming presidential primary election have been sent out this week, and Routt County residents should be noticing them in their mailboxes.
This year’s election season comes with some major changes, and sifting through all of the election processes can seem daunting. That is why Steamboat Pilot & Today has created this guide to make it easier for voters.
Understanding the presidential primary
That ballot in the mail marks a return to the primary system, as approved by voters in 2016. It is the first time in two decades Colorado will use a statewide primary to pick a presidential nominee. It also marks the first time voters can choose to mail in their ballots for a presidential primary.
Unlike caucuses, anyone can participate in the primary, even if they are not affiliated with a political party. Kim Bonner, Routt County’s clerk and recorder, said the primary system should help to boost voter participation in the nomination process.
About 45% of voters in Routt County are unaffiliated, according to voting records Bonner provided. This represents almost 7,800 voters who now will have a say in determining presidential candidates because of the primary system. Bonner described a growing trend of people disaffiliating from political parties, particularly elected officials.
“People are getting fed up with the parties at more of the federal level,” she said.
Bonner herself withdrew her party affiliation in September 2019 in an effort to make her office more inclusive and nonpartisan ahead of a contentious 2020 election.
Voters who have registered with a particular party must vote in that party’s primary. Unaffiliated voters will receive two ballots, one for the Democratic choices and another for Republican choices. It is important to vote in only one primary. If voters return both ballots, they will lose their vote.
It also is important to use only blue or black ink when filling out ballots and to completely color in the circle next to the candidate of choice to ensure the vote is counted correctly.
The deadline to submit ballots or for mail-in ballots to arrive at the Routt County Clerk’s Office is 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, known as Super Tuesday. For those planning to mail ballots, officials recommend sending them on Feb. 24 at the latest.
Other changes to the presidential primaries
Two other changes to this year’s primary system will allow more people to participate. For the first time, 17-year-olds can vote in the primaries if they will be 18 by the time of the general election on Nov. 3.
People with felony convictions also may vote in the primaries if they are on parole. Felons who currently are incarcerated may not vote.
Check your ballot choices carefully
Some of the candidates on both the Democratic and Republican ballots dropped out of the presidential race before officials could update the ballots, according to Bonner. On Tuesday, Democrats Michael Bennet and Andrew Yang became the most recent candidates to end their races.
It is important to vote for candidates who are actively running.
As of Thursday, there were eight Democratic candidates still in the race — Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren — and two Republican candidates — Donald Trump and Bill Weld.
Before casting their ballots, some voters may want to wait and see if more candidates drop out following the results from the upcoming Nevada and South Carolina contests on Feb. 22 and Feb. 29, respectively.
Caucuses are still a thing
The switch to a presidential primary does not mean caucusing has disappeared entirely. Political parties will host precinct caucuses on Saturday, March 7. The purpose of these meetings is to select precinct committee persons and delegates to county assemblies.
This is the first step in determining candidates for nonpresidential races like the U.S. Senate and county offices. It also is a way to get more involved in one’s political party and to help set the future vision for the party.
Like the primaries, 17-year-olds may participate in the caucuses if they will turn 18 by the general election.
Those who want to participate in the caucuses must register for their preferred political party by Friday, Feb. 14. People can do this online at GoVoteColorado.com.
Routt County is divided into 18 precincts, which determine where voters go to participate in the caucuses. Republicans can find their precinct location at caucus.cologop.org. Democrats can find their precinct location at coloradodems.org/2020-caucus-locations.
Republican caucusing begins at 10 a.m. March 7, according to Routt County Republicans Chairwoman Geneva Taylor.
Democratic caucusing begins at 1:15 or 1:30 p.m., depending on the precinct location, according to Routt County Democrats Chairwoman Catherine Carson. Attendees are encouraged to arrived 30 minutes early.
Those who have more questions about the primary system and caucuses can check out the Colorado Secretary of State Office’s list of FAQs at sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/FAQs/primaryElectionsFAQ.html.
To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.