Johnson: Prop 108: The devil is in the details
Author: Adam Johnson - January 10, 2017 - Updated: January 9, 2017
Now that the dust has settled with newly elected officials preparing to take office, we politicos immediately turn to the next election. Luckily for us, on a statewide level, 2018 looks to be just as rousing as 2016. Many individuals are talking about candidates for this race or that race. While this sounds gossipy, fun or exciting — it also brings to light an issue none of us has had to deal with before: the implementation of Proposition 108.
Both Democrat and Republican candidates have had a broad range of ballot access methods available to them, but with the implementation of Prop 108 that access gets extremely restrictive. On its face, Prop 108 seems to be reasonable — allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in party primaries without affiliating with either party, therefore increasing voter participation. This sounds warm and fuzzy, and is no doubt the main reason voters passed the measure. But what has been overlooked is the restrictions 108 places on candidates for office.
Each party needs to determine its method of selecting candidates for the general election. If three-fourths of a party’s state central committee votes to opt-out of a primary election, then the candidates must be selected at the convention/assembly process, negating the ability to access the ballot via petition. This means that roughly 3,500 Republican and/or Democrat party activists will decide for the other 1,993,000 registered voters of both major political parties who the candidate should be. This places a much bigger onus on those delegates and alternates to a party assembly to reasonably determine who can be competitive in a statewide election. I love party activists, but they are not strategists thinking to the future. Rather, they are focused on the moment. This is dangerous for both parties.
Some fear that unaffiliated voters will be organized by a political party to sway the opponents’ election in order to face a weaker candidate. While this is a valid concern, I highly doubt the ability of either party to successfully organize this group to accomplish what they want.
This leaves the party apparatus in a terrible position to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in the party primary in which they choose, or only to allow candidates to be nominated by the convention/assembly. Our current state treasurer was successful in petitioning onto the ballot in 2010, winning a primary against a very solid party insider, and then defeating an incumbent state treasurer. Would Walker Stapleton have succeeded in making the ballot through the convention under Prop 108? Maybe, but that was a two-candidate primary. What if there were 4, 5 or 6 candidates for governor in 2018? No one knows. Clearly there are more questions than answers currently regarding this new law.
Colorado State Republican Chairman Steve House made an excellent point in opposing Prop 108 — political parties are membership organizations, and their members should choose who their candidates will be, but this should not be limited to solely the delegates and alternates at an assembly/convention. I acknowledge that the parties need to do a better job in increasing participation, but removing certain ballot access options will make for much more bitter divisions within each party. Neither party wants more infighting, and neither does the public as a whole.
If this initiative had allowed for unaffiliated voters in party primaries, but changed nothing other than affording them that right, I would support it completely. Instead it changes the dynamics of our party nomination process, discouraging participation, not increasing it.