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Exercise Your Political Power
By Kathy Hare

          Politics - it's pretty much a dirty word in this country. No wonder! The endless political bickering, back stabbing, innuendoes, and outright lies are enough to make a sane person want to go into hibernation until after the election.

          As average American citizens become more and more disenchanted with the political system, many don't even bother to vote. Common reasons heard from non-voters are "I don't think my vote counts," or "I don't like any of the candidates." But it's difficult to conjure up any sympathy for non-voting whiners, because politics is like everything else in life, you can only reap the benefits of what you sow.

          Unfortunately, many regular voters in Colorado only exercise a small portion of their political power. Whether through ignorance or apathy, most registered voters affiliated with a political party stay home on caucus night. Less than 1 percent of the eligible voters attend the meetings where the party faithful begin the process of placing candidates' names on the ballot, and deciding what issues their party's platform should address. But perhaps if some of the mystery surrounding caucus meetings is eliminated, more voters will exercise their full political power.

           Think of a caucus as a neighborhood meeting where you are allowed to talk about politics. The only qualification is that you have to be a registered Democrat or Republican voter. Other than that, no secret code is required to get in, no one will force you to give a speech, and first time attendees have the same rights as old political hound dogs.

          When I say it's a neighborhood meeting, I'm not joking.  El Paso County is geographically divided into voting precincts containing approximately 1200 voters. This year there are 387 precincts in the county. As the population increases, so will the number of precincts. Therefore, if you live in an urban area, your precinct may only cover a few streets.

          Both political parties hold a caucus meeting in every precinct. Most often the meetings take place in a near-by school or church, but some meetings may be held in an individual's home. To find the location of your precinct meeting go to the county's Web site, www.elpasoco.com or call the Republican (578-0022) or Democratic (473-8713) headquarters.

          Normally, Colorado's caucuses are held on the third Tuesday in March. This year the event takes place on Tuesday, February 5 at 7 p.m., so that caucus goers can participate in a straw-poll for presidential candidates on Super Tuesday. No presidential candidates will appear on the primary ballot; therefore, this is the only chance Coloradoans will have to express their choice for president before the general election. But that is not the most important reason for attending a caucus; decisions made at these meetings have a far greater impact on local and state issues.

          There are two ways candidates can have their name placed on the ballot in Colorado. First, Democratic or Republican candidates can go through the caucus process seeking the support of delegates, who are elected at the precinct caucuses.

          Delegates then attend their party's county and/or state assembly, and vote for their candidate. Those candidates who receive more than 30 percent of the vote will have their name placed on the primary ballot. 

          Second, candidates can by-pass the caucus system by gathering enough voters' signatures to petition onto the ballot.        While this method appears to be easier, candidates know there's a great advantage to having their party's backing. Plus, voters who attend precinct meetings are normally more politically involved than the average person who signs a petition, so candidates recruit their campaign volunteers from the pool of voters who attend the caucuses.

          The meetings are conducted by a chairman who was elected to that position during the 2006 caucus. All precinct leaders follow the same format. My precinct "chair" is my next-door neighbor. While he will conduct our 2008 meeting, his voting power is no greater than other participants.

          Voters introduce themselves, but you will most likely know many of the attendees. If you wish to be a delegate to the county or state convention, simply state your reasons for wanting the position. Only six people attended my 2006 caucus meeting. The precinct had six positions for county delegates so each of us became one without even having to campaign for the position. In other words, we gained political power by just showing up. However, only two state delegates could be appointed from my precinct, and three of us wanted the job. Therefore, all six of us held a mini-election to determine the two people who would be state assembly delegates.

          In most years, anyone who attends a precinct meeting with a spouse and a couple of friends can almost assure themselves of becoming a delegate. Once you are a delegate, you will suddenly become every candidate's best friend. I didn't understand the power I held the first time I was elected to the county assembly, until I started receiving calls from candidates asking for my support. A mere 2500 delegates attend the El Paso County Republican Assembly, so candidates must win the support of 750 delegates to ensure themselves a place on the ballot.

          During the primary election, 152,794 El Paso County Republican voters will choose a candidate from the list chosen by those 2500 delegates. While Democrats bemoan the fact that El Paso County is a Republican stronghold, their state delegates have a lot of influence at the state level. So whether you're a Democrat or Republican, political power begins at the local precinct meetings.

          On Tuesday, February 5, Colorado voters have a decision to make. You can stay home and watch television, or attend a neighborhood political meeting. The first option gives little in return, the second allows you to participate fully in Colorado's political system.

          Exercise your political muscle - go to your caucus meeting.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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