CASTLE ROCK — The Colorado GOP’s central committee on Saturday decided against opting out of the state’s 2024 primaries to block unaffiliated voters from helping select Republicans’ general election candidates.
The outcome was despite a second attempt in as many months by the Colorado Republican Party’s leadership to adopt complicated parliamentary changes aimed at making it easier to meet the high threshold of support needed to opt out.
Even with the parliamentary maneuvering, the vote — taken by individual roll call that lasted about an hour — was 259-143.5. That’s well below the 75% support needed for the opt-out motion, endorsed by Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams, to be successful. (Some members of the central committee get partial votes.)
The party had until Sunday to make an opt-out decision, so the failed vote Saturday means Republicans won’t have another chance to try to opt out of the 2024 primaries.
Under Proposition 108, the 2016 ballot measure allowing unaffiliated voters to 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 by Oct. 1 in odd years.
Turnout for the central committee meeting on Saturday was unusually high, at 96% of the committee’s total members. That was likely a reflection of the meeting rules Williams and other Colorado GOP leaders drafted for the event.
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 the “total membership” of their respective central committees agree to do so by Oct. 1 in the year preceding an election.
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 75% threshold difficult to meet.
Rules for the GOP central committee gathering on Saturday attempted to make reaching the threshold easier by redefining “total membership” as members of the central committee who showed up at the gathering. Further, the rules made it so any nonvote by a person who showed up or who abstained from a vote by proxy would be tallied as a vote with the majority.
While 335.99 central committee votes were cast during the central committee’s last meeting in August, there were 402.5 votes cast on Saturday. Just 15 members of the central committee didn’t show up to the meeting Saturday or didn’t have a proxy.
Opting out of the state’s primaries has been an objective of the far right.
“The reason we continue to lose at the ballot box is because we allow watered-down candidates to infiltrate our ballots,” said Laurel Imer, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year. “It is time to stand on integrity, principle and the platform of the Republican Party and elect candidates who will do the same. We cannot do that with Democrats and independents infiltrating the body of our autonomy.”
But opponents of opting out, many of them more moderate Republicans, have warned that it could spell further disaster for the already-diminished Colorado GOP, which has no statewide elected officials and is in a historic minority at the state Capitol.
“We’re in a marketing war for voters,” Danny Moore, the GOP’s lieutenant governor candidate in 2024, told the central committee on Saturday. “This is the time we need to bring more Republicans to the party, not push people away.”
Opting out of Colorado’s primaries wouldn’t have just blocked unaffiliated voters from helping choose Republican general election candidates. It would have also prevented GOP candidates from gathering signatures to get on the ballot, leaving the caucus and assembly process, traditionally dominated by a limited number of hard-line party insiders, as the only way to run for every office but president. (The presidential race isn’t subject to the opt-out clause in Proposition 108.)
Colorado’s three Republican U.S. representatives voted by proxy on Saturday, with only Lauren Boebert, of Garfield County, voting for the opt-out motion. U.S. Reps. Ken Buck, of Windsor, and Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, voted against opting out.
The opt-out vote Saturday isn’t the end of the story.
Separate from the opt-out effort, the Colorado GOP filed a federal lawsuit in August seeking to block enforcement of Proposition 108. If the lawsuit is successful, there would still be a GOP primary, but it would be open to only Republican voters.
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 in August.
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, the state’s top elections official. She is a Democrat.
It’s unclear how long the lawsuit may take to play out, though the Colorado GOP could try to expedite a ruling in the case before the state’s primaries next year.
Williams said that the vote on Saturday “proves the point of the lawsuit.”
“The state has imposed upon the Republican Party an unconstitutional threshold and the numbers certainly bear that out,” Williams said of the 75% support needed to opt out.
A similar lawsuit filed in federal court by a group of Republicans ahead of the 2022 election failed. (The GOP central committee rejected an effort to opt-out two years ago, too.)
More than 434,000 Republicans and 231,000 unaffiliated voters cast ballots in the 2022 GOP primary. In some counties, more unaffiliated voters than registered Republicans cast Republican primary ballots.
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 August, 47% of voters were registered unaffiliated, 27% were Democrats and 24% were Republicans.