In what was described by both Democratic and Republican leaders as record turnouts in Elbert County, voters from both parties showed up in unexpected numbers for their respective caucuses on Super Tuesday, March 1.
Democrats from 16 precincts gathered at the Elizabeth Public Library to discuss and debate the merits of their two presidential candidates, as well as to offer up resolutions ranging from changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act to the elimination of super delegates from the nominating process.
“It's mind-blowing … It's more people than we have ever had before,” said Elbert County Democratic Chair Jill Duvall of the 240 registered Democrats who turned out for the caucus — 10 percent of the county's registered Democrats. The crowd was four times larger than expected, which required party organizers to move the proceedings from the library's meeting room to the garage in the back of the building.
One enthusiastic Democratic caucuser shouted his thanks to Republican hopeful Donald Trump for prompting such a large turnout as drivers made U-turns out of the library's overflowing parking lot to find open spots in the Big R Farm & Ranch Supply lot across the street.
Inside, amid a festive atmosphere, names were checked and precincts confirmed. With the preliminaries out of the way, the doors were locked at 7 p.m., and voters gathered in their precinct groups to begin discussions.
Several Hillary Clinton supporters praised her experience and electability, and cited concerns that Sanders' description of himself as a Democratic Socialist would hurt him in the national contest in November.
One Sanders supporter countered that America is learning that “socialist” does not mean “communist,” saying the country, especially among its younger voters, is gradually warming to the type of democratic socialism common in Europe.
Overall, Elbert County Democrats favored Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, nearly 2-to-1 over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an even stronger ratio than the than the 60-40 vote Sanders won statewide on the night.
Democrats also committed to uniting behind the party's nominee, regardless of whom it was, with around half of Sanders supporters saying that they would enthusiastically support Clinton if she were the nominee. The other half were willing to grudgingly vote for her to avoid a Republican alternative.
The caucusing Democrats also chose 26 delegates to take part in the county party assembly, held March 5 at the Pines & Plains Library in Elizabeth.
Elbert County Democrats weren't the only ones setting records on Super Tuesday.
“We ended with 432 pre-registered for caucus,” wrote Tom Peterson, chairman of the Elbert County Republican Central Committee in an email to Elbert County News. “The previous record was around 250. It was packed in nearly every caucus.”
While they didn't hold an official vote on the matter on March 1, the Elbert County Republicans did hold a presidential “preference poll” (which remains open through March 11) showing that of the 515 Republicans voting, 44 percent supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 23 percent preferred New York businessman Donald Trump, and 17 percent backed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who suspended his campaign on March 4, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich rounded out the field with 12 percent and 4 percent support, respectively.
At Running Creek Elementary School, where five of the 15 Republican precincts met, there was not as much solidarity regarding the presidential race as across town.
Of the approximately 150 Republicans from Precincts 1 through 5 informally polled by Elbert County News, nearly 5 percent said that they would either stay home, vote for an independent candidate, or would not cast a vote for president if Trump were the Republican nominee.
Though many did not enthusiastically support Trump, most Elbert County Republicans said that not supporting the party's nominee would leave the country with a bad alternative.
Though the presidential race was a topic of discussion, Republicans spent the majority of the evening discussing and choosing delegates for the seven different assemblies throughout the state.
Precinct groups also voted on resolutions ranging from an expression of opposition to Colorado Care (proposed Amendment 69) to another stating that no other system of law (such as Sharia law) should be used to adjudicate court cases in place of U.S. constitutional law.