Politics Explained

With Barack Obama’s second presidential term nearing an end, American citizens are, once again, preparing to elect a new president. Political advertising is flooding the media, and politicians are spending vast amounts of time, energy and money on getting votes.

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“182 voters gather for Republican caucus at Green Mountain Elementary school gym in Lakewood, CO. on Tuesday, February 7, 2012. Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post”

Voting is a significant, fundamental right of U.S. citizens, but the process can be intimidating. Although most college students are of voting age, many do not understand the voting process or importance of their vote.

Terms like “caucus” and “primary” dominate electoral vocabulary, but few citizens know their definitions or distinctions.

Here at The Front Page: We’ve got you covered. Here is a Front Range Community College student primer for the 2016 election.

In a few months, states will begin holding primaries or caucuses to nominate candidates. In November, the general public will vote for president, but the determination process for which candidate will become the Republican or Democratic candidate is long and complex. In our system, the two main, opposing political parties are Democrats and Republicans. Occasionally, a third main candidate will run as what as an Independent candidate.

The primaries and caucuses decide how many delegates (people authorized to represent others) will be sent to the National Conventions of each party, typically held in July. There, the delegate votes officially to declare the nominees. The candidate from each party who receives the most votes becomes the party’s nominee for the general election.

The Iowa Caucus is on Feb. 1. Primaries and caucuses are the two methods that states use to choose the nominee for each political party.  Historically, most states held caucuses, but now, the majority of states hold primaries instead.

In primaries, voters head to the polls and vote for a candidate via secret ballot. In an open primary, anyone can vote for any candidate, regardless of their party affiliation. When citizens register to vote, they can choose to affiliate themselves with a political party or choose to remain unaffiliated. A closed primary mandates that only voters who are registered with a specific party can vote in that specific primary.

Unlike a primary, a caucus is complex. Colorado, for instance, uses the caucus system to choose nominees for each party. This year, the Republican Party chose not to host a Republican Caucus in Colorado.

Colorado is divided into precincts. A precinct varies from entire towns to small parts of bigger cities. Each precinct holds a caucus to determine how many delegates will represent each candidate.

The delegate selection process for a caucus is more public than the anonymous primary voting process. First, each precinct arranges a caucus meeting. At the meeting, voters raise their hands to reveal which candidates they support and then try to convince others to their side. If a candidate receives at least 15 percent of the total votes cast at a precinct caucus, they receive delegates, who later participate in the county, regional, and state conventions mentioned above.

Next, the delegates attend county conventions and then congressional district conventions. At each of these conventions, a potential candidate must receive at least 15 percent of the votes cast to continue on to the next phase.

Finally, at the Colorado state convention on April 16 in Loveland, delegates will select the party nominee. Then the delegates for each state’s candidate gather at the national convention to determine the candidates for the general election.

Primary and caucus participants must be registered to vote. Citizens can register at primaries, but must be previously registered and affiliated with a party to participate in a caucus. This year voters needed to affiliate with a party by January 4, and have lived in the precinct for at least 30 days prior to the caucus.

Requirements for voter registration cause controversy. Some states are trying to pass laws that require a photo I.D. for a person to vote. This is challenging for poverty-stricken individuals, some minority voters, and recent international transplants. If these laws pass, they could prevent people from voting.

In Colorado, voters may use any kind of I.D., including I.D. cards from colleges and universities, or utility bills or bank statements sent to one’s home address, dated within 60 days of the election.

Additionally, a convicted felon can vote in Colorado, if he/she has served his/her sentence, including parole. These laws vary from state to state, including many states that do not publicize this right. To legally vote, after serving their sentences, felons may register using the same process as non-felons.

Community colleges, as well as traditional universities, are naturally transient communities with people from various walks of life. Busy people, such as college students, who do not have time to vote in person, can use an absentee ballot, or an in-mail ballot to ensure their opinions are heard.

Voting allows average citizens to participate in government, which affects nearly every aspect of their lives. Voting for president is equally as important as voting for local politicians. State senators and representatives, as well as local city council members, have a lot of influence over decisions made in communities. Such decisions include land usage and tax amounts.

At the national level, many current discussion topics directly affect Front Range Community College. Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, for example, is proposing a bill to make four-year higher-education institutions tuition free. Others are trying reform student loans and school financing.

Debates about immigration and gun control, as well as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, directly affect every U.S. citizen. Voting is the only way for small voices to have a big impact on the country’s future.

The first Tuesday in November, (Nov. 8 in 2016) is general-election day. People vote to determine the president of the United States, senators, representatives, ballot measures, and local politicians. It’s easy to overlook the significance of a single vote, but in a democracy like the United States, a single vote can make a colossal difference.

Links to further reading and research:

http://www.justvotecolorado.org/index.php?id=3 A good resource for what is acceptable I.D. to vote in general elections.

https://www.sos.state.co.us/voter-classic/pages/pub/home.xhtml The Colorado Secretary of State’s website, which has all of the rules and regulations regarding the voting process.

http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/FAQs/VotingAndConviction.html The Secretary of State’s page on voting with prior convictions.

http://www.factcheck.org/ A non-partisan source to check the claims that politicians make.

Written by Alex Liethen

Photo from The Denver Post

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