The 2022 political party primaries in Colorado are behind us. In two months, on Oct. 18, mail-in ballots for the November general election will be mailed to the voters.
Traditionally, the last two months before voting begins is when election campaigns for the state legislature — the state Senate and the state House of Representatives — begin in earnest. This is a good time to evaluate the situation in the 2022 legislative races so far.
Elections for the state legislature are a three-step process in Colorado. The first step begins with precinct caucuses that elect delegates to county conventions. One of the duties of those delegates is to join in “district assemblies” at which they nominate the party candidates for the state legislature. There is one district assembly for each state Senate seat and one district assembly for each state House seat.
If a would-be candidate gets 30% of the vote at the district assembly, he or she is automatically nominated to the primary election ballot. If a second candidate gets 30%, which does not happen very often, both names go on the primary election ballot. It is also possible for candidates to get on the primary election ballot by gathering a specified number of petition signatures.
We have both attended county conventions and know that district assemblies vary in size depending on interest in particular elections or certain candidates. We would argue that about 100 delegates attend the average district assembly and vote for nominees for state Senate and state House of Representatives.
At the present moment in the race for the state House, 24 of the Democrats nominated at district assemblies have been de facto elected to the state House of Representatives. At the same time, 11 Republicans nominated at district assemblies are as good as elected to the House, even though the general election has not been held yet.
The reason for this is simple. If a candidate is nominated at the district assembly, does not have a primary election, and has been gerrymandered by the redistricting process into a safe-Democratic or safe- Republican seat, there is a 99% chance he or she will win the general election in November and go to the state legislature.
For these 24 Democrats and 11 Republicans, the only real election they have won is at the district assembly. No one chose to or qualified to run against them in their party primary. Their safe-Democratic or safe-Republican district guarantees them the win this coming November.
They win the general election, not because they are the most appealing candidate, or run on the most popular issues, or do the best job of reading the changing moods of the electorate. They win simply because large numbers of their fellow party members were districted into the same legislative district with them.
There are a total of 65 members of the State House of Representatives. The 35 members elected solely from the district assembly in both political parties constitute a majority of the membership (33) plus 2. They were, in effect, elected at the district assembly, and that was the only real election they were tested in.
The second step in the legislative election process in Colorado is the party primary elections. For the State House of Representatives in 2022, there were six Democratic primaries and 14 Republican primaries.
Six of the Democratic primaries and eight of the Republican primaries were in safe seats for the two political parties. That meant the winners of those 14 primary elections were, in effect, elected in the primary election. Sitting in safe-Democratic and safe-Republican seats guaranteed them the win in the November general election.
It is good when candidates for the State House of Representatives are tested in Democratic or Republican primaries. They have to work hard to win the votes of their fellow party members. There is an element of large numbers of voters electing them over an opponent.
Keep this in mind about party primary elections, however. The turnout of voters runs at about 30% of the turnout of voters in the November general election. It is a much smaller electorate.
The third step in the state legislative election process is the general election in November. Only 16 seats in the Colorado House of Representatives will be decided in the general election, where all voters — registered Democrats, registered Republicans, and registered Unaffiliateds — will be eligible to vote.
These 16 seats were created to be “competitive” seats by the redistricting process, which means that either the Democratic or the Republican candidate can win them in the general election. These are the only 16 seats, in the 65-member Colorado House of Representatives, where we do not yet know the names of the winners.
The equivalent numbers for the state Senate are smaller but similar. Five Democrats were nominated at their district assembly, did not have a Democratic primary, and sought to be elected in safe-Democratic districts. They are as good as elected.
Five Republicans got the nod at their district assembly, did not have a Republican primary, and we're running in safe-Republican districts. They too are as good as elected to the state Senate.
One Republican was nominated at the district assembly and then won the Republican primary election. It was a safe-Republican district, however, so that candidate was in effect elected in the Republican primary.
Six state Senate seats were created by the redistricting process to be “competitive” and will be decided in the general election.
We are concerned that the winners of such a large number of seats in the Colorado state legislature (35 in the state House and 10 in the state Senate) are determined at the district assembly, where only 100 or so delegates are voting, rather than in the general election, where thousands of people are voting.
State representatives and state senators have been put in office by the limited number of their fellow party members voting at the district assembly. They therefore feel a reduced obligation to the larger community of people who live in their legislative district.
Democrats who take the trouble to go to their county convention and stick around until late in the day to vote in their district assemblies, are likely to be activist liberals and to the left of the average Colorado Democrat.
By the same token, Republicans who bother to go to their county convention and stay late to vote in their district assemblies, are likely to be activist conservatives to the right in their views compared to the average Colorado Republican.
Thus one of the main causes of political polarization at the Colorado state legislature is that so many Democrats and so many Republicans are selected in their district assemblies and not by the electorate at the general election.
The end result, we believe, is an unrepresentative Colorado state legislature. It is the left for the Democrats, and the right for the Republicans, that get over-represented by the existing system with its over-emphasis on safe-Democratic and safe-Republican seats.
The 2022 legislative elections in Colorado are down to the home stretch. In only the 16 competitive seats in the state House and the six competitive seats in the state Senate will any real voting be taking place in the general election in November.
Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy write about Colorado and national politics. Review their charts that show the current situation in each Colorado state House district and state Senate district. Search the Internet for “Bob Loevy home page” and click on A6.