The Colorado Caucus System

New to Colorado?  Never attended your Caucus before?  Just curious about the system?  Read below for a beginner's guide to the Colorado Caucus.  Please note that this information pertains to the 2014 Caucus, and may not reflect any new changes or laws passed after 2013.  To read more on the new voter registration law (HB13-1303), you can read the bill here or analysis here.

Election Calendar
The Official Colorado 2014 Election Calendar is found on the Secretary of State's website (I find it particularly useful because it references where in statute each item on the calendar is found).

However, for ease, below is a calendar of important dates (GOP election dates in bold).
  • 2 January 2014: Last date to affiliate (or unaffiliate) with a major or minor party to run as a candidate
  • 6 January 2014: Last date to register with the Republican Party to attend Caucus (also applies to Democrat and ACP)
  • 3 February 2014: Last date to be resident of your precinct (30 days prior to the Republican/Democrat/ACP Caucus)
  • 3 February 2014: First date to circulate major/minor party petitions
  • 4 March 2014: Republican, Democrat, and ACP Precinct Caucuses
  • 29 March 2014: Final date to hold Republican, Democrat, and ACP County Assemblies (no later than 25 days after the Caucus)
  • 31 March 2014: Petitions must be submitted for major and minor candidates (no later than 85 days prior to the Primary Election)
  • 12 April 2014: Final date to hold Major Party State Assemblies (no later than 73 days before the Primary Election)
  • 16 April 2014: Last Title Board Hearings for 2014 General Election Ballot Measures
  • 5 May 2014: Earliest date for judicial candidates to file declaration of intent to run for retention (no more than 6 months and no less than 3 months prior to the General Election)
  • 27 May 2014: Last date to change or withdraw from major political party affiliation (no later than 29 days before the Primary Election)
  • 27 May 2014: Last date to register to vote for the Primary (no later than 29 days before the Primary Election)
  • 2-6 June 2014: Mail-in Ballots sent out (no sooner than 22 days before the Primary Election and no later than 18 days before the Primary Election)
  • 14-20 June 2014: Early Voting for Primary Election (10 days before the Primary Election through close of business the Friday before the Primary Election)
  • 24 June 2014: Primary Election
  • 4 August 2014: Last date for judicial candidates to file declaration of intent to run for retention (no less than 3 months prior to the General Election)
  • 20 September 2014: Deadline to send mail-in ballots to overseas military voters (no later than 45 days before the General Election)
  • 14-17 October 2014: Mail-in Ballots sent out (no sooner than 22 days before the General Election)
  • 20 October-4 November 2014: Early voting
  • 4 November 2014: General Election
  • 5 December 2014: Last date an interest party may request a recount of the General Election at their own expense (no later than 31 days after the General Election)
  • 11 December 2014: Last date to complete a requested recount (no later than 37 days after the General Election)

What is a Caucus?
Precincts are the smallest political unit in the state. They generally hold a thousand or fewer people: basically a neighborhood. Your caucus is a meeting of those precincts and reflects you and your neighbors.

Only 16 states use the caucus system still – several of these states only use a partial caucus system (for example, Arizona Republicans hold a primary, and then a delegate caucus to select delegates to the National Republican Convention).  Colorado is the only state with a pure caucus system functioning today--this means we do not vote for President in a Primary election.  The Presidential Preferential (Straw) Poll is a new edition, added in 2008 along with the option to more the caucus up a month in Presidential years.  In non-Presidential years, the poll is used generally for the top two offices: Governor and US Senate (as applicable).

Please note: the Presidential Preferential (Straw) Poll is technically NON-binding—the delegates to the national assembly (elected at the state assembly) from Colorado are not required to vote either proportionally to the vote taken at the caucus, nor do we have a “winner-takes-all” system; those delegates can vote for whomever they want.  However, under a new CRC rule, delegates may bind themselves by declaring their candidate of choice before running for national delegate and will be required to vote for that candidate through the first ballot.  This is, however, optional--and I would strongly advise against binding yourself as a delegate if you decide to run.  The RNC rules have thrown all of this into question and we are waiting on clarification before the 2016 election.

In an election year, each major party in Colorado has to nominate candidates, write a platform, and organize its effort to get out the vote for Election Day by holding precinct caucus meetings. Some meet, do their business, and adjourn. Others discuss and debate for hours.

On the day of the caucus these precincts divide by Party, and each Party holds a precinct caucus at someone’s home or in a public building (usually a school or church).

Anyone can come to a precinct caucus, but not everyone can vote. In order to vote, you have to be a registered elector in the precinct, have lived in the precinct for at least 30 days before the caucus and been affiliated with a party for at least two months prior.

At every caucus, the agenda is essentially the same:
  • Elect a chair to run the meeting (NOT the same as a precinct leader)
  • Elect someone to record the meeting
  • Presidential Preferential (Straw) Poll
  • Elect two precinct committee people to represent the precinct on the Party’s county central committee
  • Elect delegates and alternates to the county assembly (and, in some counties, to the multi-county legislative district assembly, judicial district assembly, congressional district assembly and state assembly)
  • Introduce, debate, and approve or reject resolutions and platform issues to be sent on to the county assembly
Usually someone in the caucus speaks for each candidate seeking a nomination: this year, it would mean candidates for some or all of the following offices: President, CU Board of Regents At-Large, US House of Representatives, CU Regent (in some districts), State Board of Education (in some districts), District Attorney (in some districts), State Legislative races and any county offices.

Something to consider about becoming a delegate is that you need to bring your checkbook.  The cost for a Republican State Assembly delegate this year is $60, and an alternate is $40 (guest are also being charged $40 to attend).  Each assembly you attend will have some fee associated with it, most of which should be much less than the State Assembly cost.  You will be asked to pay the night of (or in extenuating circumstances, you can make other arrangements).  Please be ready to pay at the Caucus so there are no issues with your ability to attend the assemblies you are elected to as a delegate or alternate.

One of the key things you can do at caucus is bring resolutions.  Anyone who attends the caucus and is eligible to vote there may bring resolutions to be voted on by the caucus.  They do not need to be in any particular form, and merely need to be a written sentence or two (you can be more complex as necessary) with a clear articulated in it.  Resolutions affirmed by the caucus attendees will be included in the caucus packet and sent to the county party to be consolidated (meaning like resolutions will be grouped together) and voted on by the delegates to the county assembly; winning resolutions from the county assembly will be submitted to the State Party and the same process will be repeated for the State Assembly, winning resolutions from the State Assembly will become the platform for the Republican Party in Colorado for 2014 and 2015.

Another component of the caucuses is to recruit election judges.  This is something I have done before and is well worth your time if you're able to.  There is compensation and training--please consider signing up at your caucus to be an election judge as well!

This is what Colorado's Caucus system looks like for those of you who, like me, are visual people--notice the number of opportunities you have the effect the process before the general populace gets to vote!

Who do I vote for?
Over the course of municipal, off-year and regular election years, we vote for many offices.  Below is a list of the major offices everyone votes for over the course of a 4-year period in Colorado.

  • Mayor  
  • City council
  • School boards
  • County Commissioners
  • Sheriff
  • County Assessor
  • County Clerk and Recorder 
  • County Coroner 
  • County Treasurer 
  • County Judges (Retention vote – yes/no) (4 year terms)
Judicial District
  • District Attorney (4 year terms)
  • District Judges (Retention vote – yes/no)  (6 year terms)
State Legislature
  • State House (2 year term, 4 term limit)
  • State Senate (4 year term, 2 term limit)
  • Governor/Lieutenant Governor (4 year term, 2 term limit)
  • Secretary of State (4 year term, 2 term limit)
  • Treasurer (4 year term, 2 term limit)
  • Attorney General (4 year term, 2 term limit)
  • State Board of Education (one per Congressional District) (6 year terms)
  • CU Regents (one per Congressional District, 2 at-large) (6 year terms)
  • Colorado Court of Appeals (Retention vote – yes/no) (8 year terms)
  • State Supreme Court Justices (Retention vote – yes/no) (10 year terms)
  • U.S. House
  • U.S. Senate
  • President 

The Pros and Cons of Caucuses
Like anything, there are good and bad things about the Caucus system.  I am a huge supporter of Caucuses, and would cringe if Colorado ever moved away from that system.  However, the reality is that there are flaws.  Below are a quick list of pros and cons as I see them.  Feel free to comment with your own likes/dislikes of this process.

  • Grassroots focus
  • Allows those who are most engaged to have the greatest impact on the process
  • Helps focus the platform
  • Holds elected officials more accountable
  • Helps to differentiate candidates & campaigns early on (know who is serious about running and winning)
  • More susceptible to manipulation
  • Establishment of any Party is in position to “stack deck”
  • Those who petition onto the ballot are looked upon as “ignoring the system” or “circumventing the people” (when that isn't necessarily the case)
  • Requires a lot of public education about the process that doesn’t happen, often causes confusion between what a “caucus”, “assembly” and “primary” are

Call to Action: What can you do?
It is vital that Coloradoans exercise their right to participate in this important component of the election process.  Those who participate in the caucus and assembly process amplify their vote by having the chance to cast up to 6 more ballots than those who just vote in the Primary and General elections and they get to help determine the candidates who ultimately end up on the Primary and General ballots.  How could you not get involved?  Below is a list of items to accomplish in the 2014 election cycle.

Before the Caucus
  • Educate others about the Caucus process: Share this link with your family and friends in Colorado and encourage them to get engaged!
  • Prepare a Caucus plan: find out what precinct you are in if you don't already know and bring several neighbors with you to help you get elected
  • Attend your Republican Party Caucus on 4 March 2014
  • Get elected as Precinct Leader
  • Get selected to attend as many assemblies as possible as a delegate or alternate
  • Bring resolutions
After the Caucus
  • Make sure you attend the Assemblies, even if you are only an alternate... there is a great likelihood that you will get a vote if you attend
  • Even if you don’t get elected as a delegate or alternate, please attend every assembly you can and support candidates you are passionate about
  • Get involved in Primary and General races -- volunteer and contribute
  • Please leave a comment or email me if you have any questions, suggestions or corrections.


  1. Actually one of the strengths of the caucus-assembly system is that it is less likely to be manipulated by powerful forces. That's why those powerful forces are constant critics of the system, in my opinion. But thanks for writing this, I'm going to link to it from Colorado Caucus News, see link on, please let me know where I'm off base there if you spot an error or ommision.

    1. John, thanks for the comments and the link! I actually strongly agree with your assessment about it being less susceptible to manipulation, however since I frequently hear the cited as a reason to get rid of the caucus, I included it. Perhaps I should give some explanation to that in my post. Thanks for your work to educate the populace on the caucus and preserve this grassroots system!

  2. See Grassroots Rules, Stanford University Press for research that, combined with my personal experience, proves the case on manipulation for me.