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The podium of the Colorado Republican Party stands bare following a watch party of 2022 candidates at the Doubletree By Hilton in Greenwood Village. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
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CASTLE ROCK — The Colorado GOP firmly rejected an amendment to the state party’s bylaws on Saturday that would have made it easier for Republicans to take the dramatic step of opting out of Colorado’s 2024 primaries.

The amendment was part of a push by the far right to block Colorado’s roughly 2 million unaffiliated voters from helping select Republicans’ general election candidates. Unaffiliated voters have been allowed to cast ballots in partisan primaries since the 2018 election.

The vote by the state party’s central committee on the bylaws amendment was 186.83 to 149.16 — well below the required two-thirds threshold of support, or roughly 221.76 votes, needed to pass. 

The roll-call tally was preceded by an hour and a half of fierce debate that often devolved into yelling and sometimes pitted sitting Republican state lawmakers against each other. 

“I hope the media is not here because we’re going to look horrible,” state Rep. Anthony Hartsook, a Douglas County Republican, said at point during the debate at a church in Castle Rock.

The amendment, drafted by conservative commentator Chuck Bonniwell and supported by Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams, would have made a nonvote by a member of the central committee on the question of whether to opt out of Colorado’s primaries an automatic “yes” vote. 

Under Proposition 108, the 2016 ballot measure letting unaffiliated voters cast ballots in partisan primaries, the Colorado Democratic and Republican parties can opt out of the state’s primaries if 75% of their respective central committees agree to do so.

While the failure Saturday of the bylaws amendment is a big loss for Williams, who became chair in March after running on a platform focused on blocking unaffiliated voters from the GOP’s primaries, it isn’t the end of the story. 

Dave Williams speaks during a Republican state central meeting on March 11, 2023, in Loveland where elections for a chairman, vice chairman and secretary of the Colorado GOP were conducted. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The GOP can still vote in September to opt out of Colorado’s 2024 primaries, though such a push would almost certainly fail. The Colorado GOP’s central committee took an opt out vote in September 2021 ahead of the 2022 primary elections and it overwhelmingly was rejected.

If the GOP opts out, general election nominees would instead be selected through the caucus and assembly process by a relatively small number of Republicans. That would leave hundreds of thousands of party members out of the process and likely lead to more partisan candidates. 

Opting out would also prevent candidates from gathering signatures to get on the ballot.

Additionally, the Colorado GOP — at Williams’ direction — filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking to block enforcement of Proposition 108, which would effectively bar unaffiliated voters from casting ballots in partisan primaries. It’s unclear how long it will take for that case to play out. 

The Republican Party is represented in the lawsuit by John Eastman, the attorney who helped Donald Trump try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and who appeared to be an unindicted coconspirator in an indictment against Trump that was released Tuesday. 

Randy Corporon, a conservative talk radio host and a member of the Republican National Committee, is also representing the GOP in the case. The defendant is Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat and the state’s top elections official. 


A similar legal action filed in federal court by a group of Republicans ahead of the 2022 election failed.

While blocking unaffiliated voters from the GOP’s primaries has been an objective of the far right, more moderate Republicans have warned that it could spell further disaster for the Colorado GOP by alienating the state’s largest voting bloc.

More than 434,000 Republicans and 231,000 unaffiliated voters cast ballots in the 2022 GOP primary. In some counties, more unaffiliated voters cast Republican primary ballots than registered Republicans. 

The unaffiliated participation in 2022 was up considerably from 2020 and 2018, the first year unaffiliated voters were allowed to cast ballots in Colorado’s partisan primaries. 

Both Democrats and Republicans have been steadily losing members as voters switch to unaffiliated. At the end of June, 47% of voters were registered unaffiliated, 27% were Democrats and 24% were Republicans.

GOP has a new vice chair

The central committee on Saturday also elected a new Colorado GOP vice chair. 

Hope Scheppelman, the secretary of the La Plata County GOP and a nurse practitioner, beat out three other candidates in two rounds of voting. 

“Bluntly, the GOP needs more voters,” Scheppelman said in a Facebook post announcing her bid. “Republicans, independents, moderates, conservatives, older and younger voters. As vice chairman, I will vigorously work to get people to vote GOP.” 

Scheppelman’s opponents were Aaron Wood, a far-right conservative activist who ran unsuccessfully earlier this year to be Colorado GOP chair; Todd Watkins, vice chair of the El Paso County GOP; and Stu Asay, chair of the Gunnison County GOP and a former Westminster city councilman.

After the first round of voting, Wood and Asay — who received the least votes — threw their support behind Scheppleman, who was the top vote getter in the first round. 

Scheppleman will replace Priscilla Rahn, who stepped down as vice chair in July to run for a seat on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners.

Voting in the vice chair race took longer than expected because 15 more votes were cast in the first round than people who were credentialed at the meeting to vote. The Colorado GOP said the discrepancy was due to a clerical error — some people who were eligible to vote weren’t properly checked in. 

The votes were taken by paper ballot and hand counted, Williams said, to ensure transparency and election integrity.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....