An Open Letter to the Colorado Elections Study Group

Dear Members of the Elections Study Group,

Thank you for taking up the important matter of how to properly handle the caucus-primary season for major parties in Colorado.

Due to time constraints in juggling career and family, I do not plan to attend your July 11 meeting. (Other readers may note that the meeting is at 1:00 pm at the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers. The Jefferson County Republican Party reports that citizens will be allowed three minutes each to offer comments.)

However, I wanted to make my views known to you in this open letter. I hope you will seriously consider my distinctive views on the matter.

The main question on the table is whether to keep the caucus system for nominating presidential delegates to national conventions (possibly with modifications) or to adopt a primary system (presumably with mailed ballots).

I suggest to you that that question, although important, is not the fundamental question we should be asking. The fundamental question, in my view, is whether government should be involved in the business of political parties, which at least nominally are private organizations. I think the answer to that clearly is “no,” and I don’t see how any limited-government conservative could logically reach any other conclusion.

Before detailing my views on the fundamental question of government involvement, I do want to briefly outline my views on the question of caucuses versus primaries. I (re)joined the Republican Party last year so that I could be involved in this year’s caucus system. I saw first-hand how useful the caucus is for bringing together Republicans for face-to-face discussions and fostering networks of activists. I think it would be a big mistake to give up or undermine that process. I do think the caucuses can be better marketed and otherwise made more inviting to members. I think it would be okay (but not ideal) to implement a primary system for presidential races (to bind delegates), so long as it is open only to party members, with the proviso described below.

Whether the Republican Party adopts a caucus or primary system properly is up to the Republican Party, not the Colorado government. (As with all my related points, the same goes for the Democratic Party.) By the same token, whichever system the Republican Party embraces, it should have to organize and finance.

Quite simply, it is morally wrong to force taxpayers to fund the primaries of the major parties, especially given that many taxpayers are not even members of those parties and do not wish to participate in them.

More broadly, it is morally wrong and contrary to the principle of equal protection of the law for state government to regulate parties in any way that benefits some private organizations (namely, the two major parties) over others.

Ultimately, I do not think government should even place party affiliation on general-election ballots (which properly are organized and financed by government). When government decides to list party affiliation, it inevitably sets the rules for which parties may be included and by what terms—thereby improperly interfering with the operation of private organizations.

Meanwhile, independent candidates face very different—and I think unjustifiably disparate—legal hurdles to obtain ballot access. I say let every candidate get on the ballot in the exact same way (by petition), don’t list affiliations, and let every organization (including political parties) endorse candidates as they see fit. (For example, a party could distribute its endorsed list of candidates prior to an election.)

Although this is not fundamental to the issue, a side-benefit of my proposal would be that voters could no longer blindly vote party line based only on ballot-listed affiliations. Rather, voters would have to make some minimal effort, even if only to look up a party’s endorsements online before voting, to learn something about the candidates. I see this as a benefit, not a bug.

I appreciate you taking the time to think more carefully about the fundamental issues involved in the rules surrounding caucuses and primaries.

Ari Armstrong

CC Laura Woods, Ray Scott, Jerry Sonnenberg, Kevin Grantham, Kevin Lundberg, Sean Paige

· Get Government Out of Political Parties: How to Resolve the Primary-Caucus Debate
· Setting the Record Straight about Colorado’s Republican Caucus

Image: Ari Armstrong

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