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Colorado GOP in Uproar: Seeking a Way to Block the State’s 2 Million Unaffiliated Voters from Influencing Republican General Election Candidates

By Betsy Barnett

August 30, 2023

In early August the Colorado GOP’s central committee failed to pass an amendment (Amendment 7) on their bylaws that would be the first step in trying to control the influence voting of Colorado’s 2 million unaffiliated voters who they believe greatly affected which GOP general election candidates were chosen in 2020 and 2022. Unaffiliated voters have been allowed to cast ballots in Colorado’s partisan primaries since the 2018 election.

The amendment to certain bylaws would have made it easier for Republicans to take the dramatic step to opt out of Colorado’s 2024 primaries. But to do so requires a 75% agreement among ALL committee members—not just the ones present. Currently, if a member is not present when amendments are up for vote, then that member’s vote is a NO. The amendment proposal would have made the absent member’s vote a YES, instead.

The vote by the state party’s central committee on the bylaws amendment was 186.83 to 149.16 — well below the required two-thirds threshold of support, or roughly 221.76 votes, needed to pass.

A committee member from Kit Carson County pointed out that very few Republicans from the eastern side of the state where more conservative voters live, attended the meeting in Castle Rock in early August and therefore failed to vote on the amendment. This failure resulted in a NO vote on the amendment.

Thirteen counties had no representation present and therefore did not cast a vote resulting in a NO vote on amendment 7. Typically, there are three voting members from each county unless there is an elected state official which would count for another vote. Kiowa, Prowers, and Crowley counties had no one present resulting in 9 ‘No’ votes on the amendment.

The roll-call tally was preceded by an hour and a half of fierce debate that often devolved into yelling and sometimes pitted sitting Republican state lawmakers against each other.

The reality is for the GOP in Colorado that there’s been a swift political transformation over the last decade from a highly competitive purple state to one that’s deep blue. Republicans don’t hold any statewide offices and have fewer seats at the statehouse than at any time in Colorado history.

In addition, the Colorado GOP is deeply divided, and it comes down to if the party will normalize and go back to the basics. However, Republicans in the state don’t agree on what going back to the basics means. Is it trying to rally the far right, by focusing on issues like election fraud and parents’ rights? Or is it trying to appeal to a broader electorate by talking about things like housing and taxes?

The more middle centric GOP leadership has failed to make any meaningful gains in the last three election cycles to the point that they have lost a great deal of influence within the state’s leadership positions. The more conservative arm of the Party is indicating they have had enough of the status quo and are pushing these types of amendments and ideas that were unheard of in Colorado in the years before 2016 when things really started to unravel for the GOP.

The amendment, drafted by conservative commentator Chuck Bonniwell and supported by Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams, would have made a nonvote by a member of the central committee on the question of whether to opt out of Colorado’s primaries an automatic “yes” vote.

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 their respective central committees agree to do so.

According to those in the conservative corner the 75% threshold of the entire membership whether they are there or not is near impossible to overcome. This means the counties like Kiowa, Prowers, Bent and others in rural Colorado will have to have their voting members show up—or be represented by proxy vote—otherwise their vote turns into a NO on the question to opt-out.

While the failure in early August of the bylaws amendment is a big loss for Williams, who became chair in March after running on a platform focused on blocking unaffiliated voters from the GOP’s primaries, it isn’t the end of the story.

The GOP can still vote in September to opt out of Colorado’s 2024 primaries. The Colorado GOP’s central committee took an opt out vote in September of 2021 ahead of the 2022 primary and it was rejected by a large margin. However, in the 2022 general election the GOP candidates failed miserably. It was one of the worst defeats in a general election, overall, for the Colorado GOP in recent memory.

Since that shellacking the Republicans took in 2022 many have turned towards opting out of the primary because the unaffiliated voters, they believe, are overwhelming the GOP results. They further note:

Democrat leaning unaffiliated voters are voting in the Republican open primary in order to skew the primary results (away from what a Republican-only primary would produce)

These voters then go on to ensure a Democrat victory in the general election

There is no value to allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in the Republican nomination process

The Republican primary results seem to have caused Republican voters to abstain from voting in the general elections

In other words, unaffiliated voters are skewing Republican primary races which have had a negative effect on Republican performance in general elections. Republicans have steadily lost election since the first open primary election in 2018

If the GOP opts out, general election nominees would instead be selected through the caucus and assembly process by possibly a relatively small number of Republicans, although all registered Republicans meet the criteria and have an opportunity to get involved with the process and all registered Republicans would be able to vote at the Committee of the Whole held in each individual county or district.

Additionally, the Colorado GOP — at Williams’ direction — filed a federal lawsuit in early August seeking to block enforcement of Proposition 108, which would effectively bar unaffiliated voters from casting ballots in partisan primaries. It’s unclear how long it will take for that case to play out.

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 and who appears to be an unindicted coconspirator in an indictment against Trump that was released in mid-August in Georgia.

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, a Democrat and the state’s top elections official.

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. But on the other hand, Colorado GOP Republicans are grossly outnumbered by that same group and their data shows since Prop 108 came in the Republicans have lost more and more ground each election cycle.

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. The GOP leadership believes a great number of left-leaning voters among the unaffiliated block affected the more conservative candidates that at the Republican state assembly in 2022 were chosen by the majority conservatives to be on the primary ballot.

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.

If you are a registered Republican and are interested in knowing more about the opt-out proposal that is coming up for a full vote in September contact your county’s party representative:

BACA COUNTY: 3 voted ‘yes’ on amendment 7

  • Larry Forgey – Chair
  • Adam Wray – Vice Chair
  • Wendy Forgey – Secretary

BENT COUNTY: 3 voted ‘yes’ on amendment 7

  • Pam Valdez – Chair
  • Deborah Martin – Vice Chair
  • Katherine Brown–Secretary

CHEYENNE COUNTY: 4 voted ‘yes’ on amendment (includes Sen. Pelton)

  • Greg Martin – Chair
  • Erica Kern – Vice Chair
  • Joni Mitchek–Secretary

CROWLEY COUNTY: 3 voted ‘no’ on amendment 7 (all not present)

  • Matt Carter – Chair
  • Keith Benbow – Vice Chair
  • Lisa Corgler – Secretary

KIOWA COUNTY: 3 voted ‘no’ on amendment 7 (all not present)

  • Terry Laird – Chair
  • Greg Miller – Vice Chair
  • Dawn James – Secretary

KIT CARSON COUNTY: 2 voted ‘no’ and 1 voted ‘yes’ on amendment 7

  • Diane Homm – Chair
  • Judy Feldhausen – Vice Chair
  • Ben Hassart–Secretary

LINCOLN COUNTY: 3 voted ‘no’ on amendment 7

  • Ardith James – Chair
  • Russell Lengel – Vice Chair
  • Mindy Dutro – Secretary

OTERO COUNTY: 3 voted ‘no’ on amendment 7

  • Stephanie Garbo – Chair
  • Trish Leone – Vice Chair
  • Sharon Ghilarducci – Secretary

PROWERS COUNTY: 3 voted ‘no’ on amendment 7 (all not present)

  • Thomas Dunagan – Chair
  • Sam Zordel – Vice Chair
  • Angie Cue–Secretary

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