Editor’s Note 3/10/20: Andrew Romanoff won the majority of support in the Democratic caucus for U.S. Senate on March 7. Statewide, he received 55 percent of support in the preference poll while former Gov. John Hickenlooper secured 30 percent. Still, these results are not a clear indication of what will happen in the June 30 primary. 

You may have seen headlines over the past few years heralding the end of caucusing in Colorado. There’s some truth to it, as voters in 2016 passed Propositions 107 and 108, establishing primary voting for presidential elections and doing away with the state’s robust presidential caucus system.

Even though we now select presidential nominees in a primary—which, in case you somehow missed it, took place on March 3 (results here)—both of Colorado’s major political parties still hold caucuses, which are happening across the state March 7. The caucuses will help shape the landscape of Colorado’s competitive U.S. Senate race, as well as other contests. There are a lot of moving parts, and it can be quite confusing. But here’s a quick rundown of how the system works, how you can get involved, and what’s at stake for candidates and voters.

What happens at a precinct caucus?

Unlike primaries and most other elections in Colorado, caucuses are not put on by the Secretary of State’s office and counties. Instead, the two major political parties run the caucuses, meaning Colorado’s Democratic and Republican party leaders take on the bulk of the organization and administrative efforts. The purpose of the precinct caucuses is not to elect candidates directly or even to decide the ballot. Instead, it’s one of the first steps in those processes and where the parties formulate platforms moving forward.

At the precinct caucus, party members come together to elect precinct committee members (also known as organizers), who will go to the county, district, and state assemblies (more on that later) and help decide which candidates make the ballot for various local and state-wide races. Between Democrats and Republicans, there are a combined 3,133 precinct caucuses in Colorado at various locations, and two precinct organizers will be elected at each one—meaning a total of 6,266 organizers will emerge from the precinct caucus. Still with us? Let’s continue.

The precinct organizers are elected based on the candidates or party principles that they support. It’s a relatively easy process: If you want to be an organizer, go to the caucus, raise your hand and say as much, then make your case.

Where does it happen?

The caucuses are held at various locations around the state, including public buildings and private residences (so long as they are accessible to all people). First, you need to determine your precinct number—which you can do here. Then go to your party’s website to learn where you should be caucusing. (Democrats, use this link. Republicans, use this link.) Republican caucuses start Saturday, March 7 at 10 a.m.; Democratic caucuses start at 2 p.m.

Who can caucus in Colorado?

Only registered party members who have been a member of their precinct for at least 22 days can caucus in Colorado, which means unaffiliated voters and newcomers are out. However, unaffiliated voters will have the opportunity to vote in the June 30 primary, which formally nominates statewide and local candidates. Caucus-goers must be at least 18 years old, or they must turn 18 before the general election (November 3, 2020) in order to participate.

What elections are influenced by caucusing?

There are many elections—local and statewide—that are still influenced by caucusing. The number of elections at stake depend on the precinct and county in which you live; the only statewide race happening this cycle that all caucus-goers have in common is the one for U.S Senate. Republicans have less to decide, as sitting Sen. Cory Gardner is assured to be the nominee (in fact, the Republicans are not doing a preference poll for Senate at all). The Democrats, on the other hand, have a crowded field from which to choose their preferred Senate candidates.

Does every candidate go through a caucus process?

No. There are two ways to get on the primary ballot in Colorado. First, candidates can petition for signatures. For the U.S. Senate race, candidates of major parties must collect at least 10,500 signature statewide, including 1,500 from each of the state’s seven congressional districts. Candidates can also choose to go through the caucus and assembly process. The ultimate goal for Senate candidates is to get enough support at the caucus (15 percent in the preference poll) to move on to the county and state assemblies. If a candidate gets at least 30 percent of the vote at the state assembly, he or she will make the June ballot.

Worth noting: Candidates can gather signatures and go through the caucus process, they don’t have to choose one or the other. However, there is some risk to doing that. If a candidate gathers enough valid signatures but fails to get at least 10 percent of the vote at the state assembly, he or she will not make the ballot.

John Hickenlooper, Andrew Romanoff, Stephany Rose Spaulding, Erik Underwood, and Trish Zornio are each going through the caucus process. Diana Bray, Lorena Garcia, David Goldfisher, and Michelle Ferrigno Warren are only gathering signatures. (Hickenlooper and Underwood are gathering signatures and caucusing.)

What happens next?

Following the precinct caucuses, assemblies will begin at the county level from mid-March to mid-April, which will help establish the candidates that make various ballots. For U.S. Senate, candidates must earn at least 15 percent of the vote across county assemblies in order to reach the state assembly on April 18. The candidates that meet the 30 percent threshold at the state assembly (in addition to candidates that gathered enough signatures but didn’t caucus), will make the ballot for Colorado’s non-presidential primary on June 30. And then, of course, the ultimate winners of these races will be decided in the general election on November 3.

Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.