Colorado GOP leadership is once again trying to make it easier for the party to block unaffiliated voters from participating in Republicans’ 2024 primaries, this time by proposing a convoluted set of rule changes that could test the bounds of state law.
The Colorado Republican Party’s central committee is set to meet Sept. 30, when it will consider whether to opt out of the primaries next year and instead choose the GOP’s general election candidates through an in-house process.
Under a ballot measure passed by voters in 2016 letting unaffiliated voters cast ballots in partisan primaries, opting out requires 75% support of the “total membership” of the Democratic or GOP central committee, which is made up of about 400 elected officials and local party leaders. But many of the central committee’s members don’t show up to the committee’s meetings — in part because they happen on Saturdays, take an entire day and may be an hourslong drive away — making the two-thirds threshold difficult to meet.
Proposed rules for the gathering, however, would redefine “total membership” in the Colorado GOP’s bylaws as members of the central committee who show up at the Sept. 30 gathering, effectively discounting central committee members who stay home. Further, the rules would tally any nonvote by a person who shows up or who abstains from a vote by proxy at the gathering as a vote with the majority. That shift that would effectively force people to stay for the entire gathering.
Finally, the proposed rules would let central committee members cast just two proxy votes in addition to their own vote, potentially limiting the number of people who can vote by proxy at the meeting.
To be adopted, the proposed rules —which mark at least the third attempt this year to find a way to block unaffiliated voters from the GOP’s primary —require the support only of a simple majority at a vote taken at the start of the meeting. It’s likely support will well exceed that threshold.
When the Colorado GOP’s central committee gathered in August to consider an amendment to the party’s bylaws that aimed to make it easier to opt out of the state’s 2024 primaries, the vote was 186.83 to 149.16. (Some members of the central committee get partial votes.) That was far less than the two-thirds support needed to adopt the amendment — which would have counted any member of the central committee who didn’t attend the opt-out vote as a “yes” — but well above a simple majority.
State Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, a Weld County Republican who opposes the opt-out push, called the proposed rules for the Sept. 30 meeting “corrupt.”
“It’s just shady and it’s corrupt,” she said, questioning why six pages of rules are needed for the gathering. “Who looks at this stuff?”
But Colorado GOP Chairman Dave Williams, who signed off on the proposed rules, defended the framework.
“The goal is to level the playing field,” he told The Colorado Sun, pointing to how difficult it is to reach the two-thirds threshold needed to opt out of the primaries. “Right now, the opponents of the opt-out have an unfair advantage. They can encourage people not to show up. They can encourage people not to pick a side. These rules are designed to encourage folks to show up and vote.”
Williams said it’s unfair to let some central committee members carry 10 or more proxy votes.
“We can’t have that kind of lack of participation,” he said.
If the GOP opts out, general election nominees would instead be selected through a version of 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.
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.
The Colorado GOP has also filed a federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate Proposition 108, the 2016 voter-approved ballot measure letting unaffiliated voters cast ballots in the state’s partisan primaries. The case is making its way through the court system and there’s no timeline for when it will be resolved.
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. Eastman was indicted alongside Trump in Georgia.
A similar legal action challenging Proposition 108 filed in federal court by a group of Republicans ahead of the 2022 election failed.
The central committee is also scheduled to consider on Sept. 30 one of two methods to select the GOP’s general election candidates should the opt-out vote or lawsuit be successful.
Under the first option, a candidate would have to secure the support of a simple majority from party delegates — party insiders who show up and participate in the arduous caucus and assembly process — at their respective GOP assembly to become the general election nominee.
Under the second option, candidates would go through the caucus and assembly process and if they receive 30% of the delegate vote they would advance to a runoff election on a set day when all registered Republican voters who request a ballot and verify their identity could participate — not just delegates.
Williams said there will be a push for Republicans to opt out of the state’s primaries every year if and until the lawsuit is resolved in the GOP’s favor.
“If the lawsuit strikes it all down, then we don’t even have to worry about this question,” he said. “But until then, yeah, there’s going to be a contingent of Republicans who really want to make sure that we can have a system where only Republicans are choosing Republicans.”
The central committee will also consider bylaw amendments at the Sept. 30 meeting.
One of the amendments would let the party and party officials endorse candidates who make the ballot solely by gathering petition signatures instead of winning the support of party insiders through the caucus and assembly process. Right now, party endorsements are limited to races where there is only one Republican running for a position.
“A lot of Republicans throughout the party are upset that there are candidates who would essentially snub them and just go collect signatures,” Williams said. “This is a way to allow party officers flexibility on weighing in on those races.”
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, to reflect that opting out requires 75% of the total membership of the Democratic or GOP central committee.