Democratic caucuses see modest turnout
Even as the clock ticked past 9 p.m. on March 6, small groups of people could still be seen through the windows of Alameda High School. Inside, hushed discussions of mathematical calculations and political banter could be heard.
Each group, representing a precinct in Jefferson County, was working to answer the same two questions: Who would represent the district at the Democratic Party's endorsement conventions during the election season, and what resolutions on certain issues should direct the party's platform?
Turnout for the Democratic caucus appeared better than anticipated, with more than 200 attending caucuses at the high school.
"Caucuses traditionally have been very low attended events," Jeffco Democratic Party Chairman Chris Kennedy said. "The general population isn't very aware of them nor do they really understand what they're all about."
Jeffco Democratic Party leadership worked to drive party members to their nearest precinct and kick-start the party's election season through the same grassroots campaign that has produced polarizing results since the 2008 presidential election that drew in a record number of people to the precincts.
During that year, Kennedy said, an estimated 13,000 Democrats flocked to precinct locations throughout the county. However, the U.S. Senate race between Andrew Romanoff and Michael Bennet two years later only drew about 3,000 supporters to the same precincts. He noted that the attendance for the 2004 and 2006 primary caucuses was even lower.
Before the caucuses, Kennedy said he "would have been happy" to draw at least 2,500 people because there is only one contested race, that between Brittany Pettersen and Brian Carroll for the state representative seat representing House District 28.
On March 12, he estimated that turnout was about 1,300, more in line with what he expected. Because there is no competition for the Democratic presidential ticket or for representative seats for many House districts in Jefferson County, Kennedy said some Democrats did not understand why they had to attend the precinct caucuses.
Unlike other counties that have a more concentrated Democratic population, winning seats in Jefferson County is more challenging.
"When you get to Jefferson County, it's almost like you have to twist people's arms for them to run after you. And it's not that the area is so heavily Republican, but people know that these are tough races," he said. "More often than not, a candidate will enter a race if they think they can win, but when a candidate looks at numbers of a race and looks at how long it has been represented by a Republican, it's kind of hard to find other reasons to run."
For some voters, encouraging younger generations to become politically active is becoming increasingly important — a demographic that only accounted for a small portion of the 200 people whot attended the precinct caucus at Alameda High School.
"Basically, when I walked into my room, people said, 'Oh my gosh, you're the only one without grey hair,' so I think more established older citizens have a better idea of what's going on," Lakewood resident Chad Waleik said jokingly.
Other area residents said people often overlook the importance of precinct caucuses because they think the primary races, coming up on June 26 this year, will play the only role in determining which candidate will represent the party.
"I think people don't realize that you really make things happen if you start at the precinct level. All these people gripe about these politicians, and then they don't do anything about it," Lakewood resident Bob O'Neill said. "They vote, and they complain about who they're voting for, but they didn't start out and have some say about who the candidates are."