Colorado Republicans reject bid to dump 2018 primary, will let unaffiliated voters cast ballots

Author: Ernest Luning - September 23, 2017 - Updated: September 25, 2017

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addresses a meeting of the state Republican Party's central committee on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at Colorado's Finest High School of Choice in Englewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addresses a meeting of the state Republican Party’s central committee on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at Colorado’s Finest High School of Choice in Englewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Unaffiliated voters will be able to cast ballots next year in Colorado’s Republican primary.

GOP leaders on Saturday failed to approve a proposal to cancel the 2018 primary election rather than allow unaffiliated voters to participate.

The decision by the state party’s central committee capped months of fierce debate over whether to go along with a voter-approved measure that opens Colorado’s Democratic and Republican primaries to unaffiliated voters.

“We’ve got to send a message to all of our state’s voters, that Colorado Republicans want an open process where any Republican can vote — and, under this new law, we want to invite unaffiliated voters to participate as well,” former state GOP chair Dick Wadhams, an opponent of canceling the primary, told Colorado Politics.

Under a provision in Proposition 108, either major party can “opt out” of holding a primary and instead nominate candidates to the November ballot solely using the caucus and assembly process — something Democrats say they didn’t even consider.

Technically, the question couldn’t have passed at the state GOP’s meeting at a high school in Englewood, because there weren’t enough Republicans present to approve opting out — even if the vote had been unanimous. The law requires three-quarters of a major party’s central committee to vote in favor of canceling the primary, but only 62 percent of the body showed up, making it impossible to reach the threshold.

Instead, Republicans held what amounted to a non-binding straw poll on scrapping the primary, and that went down 67-33. Another proposal calling on the state GOP to sue to overturn Proposition 108 on constitutional grounds failed by an identical margin.

“It is a sad day when the Republican Party won’t stand up for the First Amendment,” former congressional candidate George Athanasopoulos, a leading supporter of opting out, told Colorado Politics after the vote. “We have constitutional protections as an assembly. We are a private organization. The state has placed onerous rules on how we are to assemble and what rules govern our assemblies. And if we won’t stand up to defend our own rights, why would voters trust us to stand up to defend theirs?”

Colorado had 3,351,785 active, registered voters at the beginning of the month, nearly evenly distributed among  Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, with a scattering belonging to the state’s minor political parties.


Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.