Record numbers participate locally
February 5, 2008
SUMMIT COUNTY – Democrats and Republicans crowded into the largest local caucuses in history and voted Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as the big winners in Summit County’s Super Tuesday “presidential preference poll.” Despite frigid temperatures, party members turned out in unprecedented numbers to vote in what may be Colorado’s first significant participation in the presidential primary process. Parked cars and trucks filled the lot at the Summit County Community and Senior Center – where local Democrats held their caucus – and spilled over into neighboring streets all the way to the County Commons building. At the Holiday Inn in Frisco, local Republicans jammed around tables as hotel employees brought rack after rack of extra chairs into the conference.”I bussed tables at my first caucus when I was 16,” County Commissioner Tom Long told the assembly at the Holiday Inn. “And I’ve never seen a caucus in Summit County with so many people.” Nearly 250 Republicans cast votes in Tuesday’s caucus.County Treasurer Bill Wallace, an active Summit County Democrat for the past 34 years, made a similar observation about the more than 550 participants on the Democratic side.”I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “The energy and the number of people involved is amazing.”At the Holiday Inn, the proceedings started with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and a salute to the flag followed by brief remarks by local party leaders and elected officials. The mood was upbeat, but orderly. After the speakers finished, participants cast their votes for president by secret ballot at each precinct table. Gray heads may have predominated at the Republican meeting, but more than a few young people were visible in the crowd. “I’m here to support Ron Paul,” Breckenridge resident J.J. Ilseng said. Paul’s presence in the race is the reason the pony-tailed young man showed up for his first ever caucus.The decibel level at the Senior Center, in marked contrast to the Republican meeting, never dipped below a dull roar. Precincts divided into several different areas, with one precinct alone – Precinct 4, which includes the Wellington Neighborhood in Breckenridge – accounting for 96 voters.Although tables were set up throughout the center, most people stood and, for the most part, had to shout to be heard. Like the Republicans, voting was conducted in individual precincts, but unlike their more conservative counterparts, the Democrats held no general introduction. Each precinct was pretty much left to its own devices, and the resulting lack of obvious organization was described by some as “frustrating” and by others as “exhilarating.”Rather than vote by secret ballot, Colorado Democrats express their preference with an open vote, and, in more than one precinct last night, the vote was shouted.Blue River resident and caucus first-timer Rayanne Harris said even though she could barely hear a word spoken at her precinct table and her candidate didn’t win, she was very glad she came.”I really felt like I was contributing,” she said. Although the “presidential preference poll” numbers generated at Tuesday night’s caucuses are reported as numbers of votes, the actual delegates to the respective national conventions are not bound to vote for any particular candidate. Harriet Hamilton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.