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Colorado Republicans reject bylaws change that would have made it easier to cancel 2024 primary

Colorado Republicans on Saturday voted down a proposal that would have made it easier for the state GOP to cancel next year’s primary election to prevent unaffiliated voters from having a say in the party’s nominees.

The proposed amendment to the Colorado GOP’s bylaws would have changed party rules so that absent or nonvoting members of the state party’s central committee would automatically be counted as votes in favor of canceling the primary at a future meeting.

The state GOP’s governing body rejected the amendment near the end of an all-day meeting at The Rock, a nondenominational church in Castle Rock.

After nearly two hours of sometimes heated debate on the amendment, the proposal received support from 55% of the party’s state central committee members present, falling short of the required two-thirds needed to pass a bylaws amendment.

The vote was 186.83 in favor and 149.16 against, with some counties casting fractional votes because they have multiple Republicans filling party officer positions.

The state party has been planning to decide in late September whether to withdraw from the 2024 primary, using a procedure contained in a 2016 statewide ballot measure that opened Republican and Democratic primaries to unaffiliated voters.

Republicans who have advocated for canceling the primary, however, say it’s unlikely they’ll ask the central committee to consider the question this fall without the bylaws change in place.

Proposition 108 — approved in 2016 with support from 53% of voters — requires an affirmative vote by three-fourths of the membership of a major political party’s central committee to “opt out” of the primary process and instead nominate candidates using the caucus and assembly system.

Sponsors and supporters of the bylaws amendment that failed on Saturday contend that the law’s threshold is effectively unattainable — it’s rare that 75% of the GOP’s central committee shows up for a meeting — making it virtually impossible for Republicans to pull out of the primary system.

Opponents, however, noted repeatedly that 84% of the party’s central committee membership had shown up — either in person or by proxy — to Saturday’s meeting.

Colorado Republicans have considered withdrawing from semi-open primaries three times since state voters approved the system — in 2017, 2019 and 2021 — but each time the measure fell far short of the required threshold.

Supporters of the opt-out proposal say they don’t want outsiders to help pick GOP nominees, while opponents argue that skipping the primary risks alienating the state’s 1.8 million unaffiliated voters, a group both major parties rely on to win statewide elections.

Attempts to cancel the primary under the the “opt out” provision are separate from a lawsuit filed iearlier this week in federal court by the state Republican Party seeking to overturn Proposition 108 on constitutional grounds.

According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, 47% of the state’s active, registered voters are unaffiliated, 27% are Democrats and roughly 24% are Republicans, with the reminder belonging to the state’s minor political parties.

Under the semi-open primary system established by the ballot measure, Colorado’s unaffiliated voters receive both Republican and Democratic primary ballots but can only fill out and return one of them. A fully open primary system, as exists in some states, would let Democrats vote in Republican primaries, and vice versa.

Whatever the state GOP does, it won’t change how Colorado’s presidential primary is conducted, because that was established by a separate ballot measure, also approved by voters in 2016. Like in state primaries under the current system, unaffiliated voters can participate in either the Democratic or Republican parties’ presidential primary — next year set for March 5, known as Super Tuesday.

While both major parties initially opposed Proposition 108, since it was adopted by voters state Democrats haven’t seriously considered scrapping their primary.

Also on Saturday, the state GOP elected a new vice chair — Hope Scheppleman, a nurse practitioner currently serving as the La Plata County Republican Party secretary. She won with just under two-thirds of the vote over Todd Watkins, the El Paso County GOP vice chair, after two other vice chair hopefuls withdrew and endorsed her.

Scheppleman replaces Priscilla Rahn, who was elected in April to a second, two-year term in the position but resigned in June to campaign for Douglas County commissioner.