NewsCovering Colorado


Colorado Republican Party files lawsuit to close primary elections, shutting out unaffiliated voters

Posted at 1:03 AM, Aug 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-03 14:23:41-04

COLORADO — The Colorado Republican Party filed a lawsuit on Monday attempting to close state primary elections and bar unaffiliated voters from participating in them.

The party is suing the Secretary of State and is challenging the legality of Proposition 108, which was passed by voters in 2016 and allows unaffiliated voters to vote in a party's primary election without registering with that party. Dave Williams, Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said the proposition infringes upon the party's First Amendment rights of free speech and association.

"We need to go back to the way it was before when we were actually winning elections," he said. "We want to be able to ensure that Republicans are choosing our Republican nominees."

Unaffiliated voters, the largest voting party in the state, make up 48% of all registered voters in Colorado, according to data from the Secretary of State. In El Paso County, 50% of all registered voters are unaffiliated.

Williams said allowing unaffiliated voters into primary elections sways the true interests of the Republican party. He said it also allows voters from other parties to switch their affiliation to unaffiliated and vote for less desirable candidates in Republican primaries.

"We're suing because we want to protect our First Amendment rights and ensure that no Democrats or any malicious left-wing groups are trying to bring harm to who our nominees eventually will become," said Williams.

Shelly Roehrs, an unaffiliated voter and Spokesperson for the League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak Region, said the lawsuit has no basis and would harm the rights of over 2 million unaffiliated voters in Colorado.

"The bigger picture as an unaffiliated voter is you are taking my choice away in the early decision process at the ground level, which is where decisions are made," she said.

Timothy Kirkwood is an unaffiliated voter in El Paso County and said Republicans should focus on reaching out to independent voters instead of pushing them away.

"I don't think it's a very smart strategy. I'd like to think they're a smart party," he said. "The Republican Party needs independent voters to win elections. I would think they would want to reach out to independent voters."

In 2022, four Republicans filed a similar lawsuit in a federal court seeking to close primary elections to only party members. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit a couple of months later citing that the plaintiffs did not claim any personal injury.

Williams said he believes the new lawsuit will have a different outcome since it is officially backed by the party.

Secretary Jena Griswold sent the following statement to News5 regarding the most recent lawsuit:

“The court dismissed the prior lawsuit and we continue to believe the new lawsuit has no merit. As Secretary of State, I will always stand up for voters to ensure that their constitutional right to cast a ballot is protected.”
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold

Proposition 108 allows parties to opt out of primary elections if 75% of the party's central committee agrees. Williams said during the last vote two years ago, 60% of members voted not to opt out of the primary election.

Republican party members are meeting this Saturday to discuss changing the rules surrounding opting out of primary elections. Williams said sometimes in the past there have not been enough members present to vote on opting out. The changes up for discussion include counting an absent vote as a "yes" to opting out of the primaries.

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