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Both Parties Agree 'Something Has To Be Done' After Caucus Problems

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) - Colorado may resurrect its presidential primary after frustration at caucuses on Super Tuesday reached a boiling point.

None of the Republicans in the state had a say in the nominee because the party canceled the straw poll. And thousands of Democrats didn't have a say because of long lines.

"I think perhaps caucuses in a battleground state for president, we've probably outgrown the caucus system and it's probably time to figure out whether or not we can do a dual track, parallel system -- that has caucuses that go on as well as presidential primaries," said Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio.

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio is interviewed by CBS4's Shaun Boyd (credit: CBS)

Lawmakers eliminated the state's presidential primary 13 years ago over budget concerns, but support for bringing it back grew exponentially after the caucuses.

Palacio and Colorado Republican Party Chair Steve House are urging state lawmakers to bring back Colorado's presidential primary.

"If (the bill) were teed up today, it might pass today with a high number because of the challenges on both sides last night," said House.

Colorado Republican Party Chair Steve House
CBS4's Shaun Boyd interviews Colorado Republican Party Chair Steve House (credit: CBS)

But if Democrats and Republicans are frustrated, unaffiliated voters in Colorado may be more so. They don't get a say at all in the nominees. Only registered party members can participate in the caucuses. And despite record turnout by Democrats Tuesday night, it represented just 14 percent of the party.

"In 2014, 67 percent of new registrations in Colorado were unaffiliated voters. It's the largest voter affiliation now. We think as a business community their voice needs to be heard," said Kelly Brough, head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Kelly Brough, head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce
Kelly Brough, head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (credit: CBS)

Brough is part of a group that got initial approval from the Secretary of State's Office Wednesday for a ballot measure that would allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primaries, including a presidential primary should lawmakers bring it back.

Palacio and House say they're open to the idea if unaffiliated voters are limited to one party primary, not both.

"People don't feel like it's fair to have one group of individuals -- unaffiliated voters -- who could have both ballots in the mail at the same time and choose between both of them at that time. I think there's a way this can be done where we're encouraging more participation but we're also ensuring that the primary -- which is designed to be a unique party function -- serves that function, which is to nominate the next president of the United States," Palacio said.

It's unclear if lawmakers will take up an open presidential primary, but Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, confirmed he will be bringing a bill to reinstate a presidential primary. Lawmakers considered a bill last year, but it failed over concerns about cost -- an estimated $2 million -- and the ability to pull it off in time for 2016. Garnett says there's definitely the political will to pass it now.

Gov. John Hickenlooper says he too is open to a presidential primary.

"It's easier for voters and brings in more participation. Bringing more attention to Colorado is a good thing," Hickenlooper said.

caucus line
A long line at a Democratic caucus on Super Tuesday (credit: CBS)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, sent a letter to the chairs of both parties after thousands of Democrats in Boulder got turned away from caucuses saying, "As a representative democracy it is imperative that members of both parties have a fair and accessible process for selecting the nominees of their choice to compete in a general election. The caucus system is an antiquated and exclusionary system that is simply no longer a viable way to administer the important process of selecting our party's Presidential nominees."

caucus line1
A long line at a Democratic caucus on Super Tuesday (credit: CBS)

House says he is confident Colorado will bring back its presidential primary.

"One way or another -- whether it's legislative or on the ballot -- we're going to see this this year. Something has to be done."

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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