Primaries out, caucuses in
Missouri voters face a big change in how they chose their president.
May 2022, the Missouri General Assembly voted to eliminate the March Presidential Preference Primary.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said in a news release “The selection of presidential nominations for the November 2024 will be under the direction of each established political party. Missouri statutes RSMo 115.776 created the caucus system for established state political parties for the purpose of nominating a candidate for the president of United States.”
The release said his office has contacted each of the established political parties and “is collecting information regarding the process they each will follow to determine how they will select their presidential nominee.”
He advised Missouri voters to review information provided by their established political parties, if they wish to be involved and participate in a specific party’s nomination process.
Boiled down, it means the presidential nomination process in Missouri, Ashcroft said, is no longer run by the state.
It will be run by the individual parties.
Missouri has three parties with ballot access, Ashcroft said. the Democrat Party, the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party. “Each of those parties is solely in charge of how they send their delegates to the national convention. The state has nothing to do with it.”
He supplied the state convention information for those three parties.
The Libertarian Party will have their state convention February 24 in Earth City.
The Missouri Republican Party on March 2, will have a caucus in every county of the state; “One location per county, except for places like St. Louis, where they will have multiple. That caucus, at 10 a.m., they will close the doors. They will lock the doors. Every Republican that is inside at that time, they will have discussions between the participants and they will allocate delegates from that county.” He said Republicans need to understand they must have a government-issued photo ID to participate and the caucus locations are decided at the county level. That location can be gotten from the local Republican Party or the state headquarters.”
The state level contact information, he said, is available on his office’s web site: https://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/candidates/contact-parties
On March 23, the Democrat Party “will be having a mail-in election with some in-person voting maybe in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.” Ashcroft said he thought the Democrats would have one more meeting to finalize their process. “Democrats need to reach out to their state-wide party to make sure they are a part of that. There is some talk the only people who will be allowed to vote in the Democrat primary will be people affiliated with the Democrat party.”
He said “affiliated,” in this case means having affiliated on the state’s voter registration system. They can also do that, he said, through their local party or the Secretary of State’s web site, sos.mo.gov.
“For Missouri registered voters who wish to voluntarily affiliate with a political party you can register using the SOS website or by contacting your local election authority,” Ashcroft said. “For the vast majority of the state that is the county clerk. St. Louis County, St. Louis City, Kansas City, Jackson County, they have a board of elections that’s appointed by the governor. But I would say in 116 of Missouri’s election jurisdictions, 108 or so, that is the county clerk’s office.”
While discussing the issue with the Centralia Fireside Guard, Ashcroft addressed what he thought might be the most common misunderstanding of the change.
“I think there are people that assume people know about the change. People in government, people in politics, sometimes get so wrapped up in it, they forget that for the average person, their time is spent bringing home enough money keep food on the table and a roof over their family’s heads. They’re running their kids to athletic events or choir, you name it. This is not on the top of their mind. At the same time, we need to make sure they know about it, because elections are about the people, and about making sure they decide.”
That deciding, In Boone County for example, according to the Boone County Clerk’s web site, will go thusly.
“Boone County Republicans will caucus on March 2, at the Family Worship Center at 4925 E Bonne Femme Church Rd, Columbia. Doors will open 9 a.m./ and the Caucus will be called to order at 10 a.m. Any registered Boone County voter with a voter registration affiliation of Republican or Unaffiliated can participate. For more information, please contact Anthony Lupo with the Boone County Republican Central Committee at email@example.com.
Boone County Democrats’ selection process includes mail-in voting and in-person voting. Mail-in ballots can be requested from the party between February 12 and March 12 and must be received by 10 a.m. on March 23. On March 23, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. the party will host in-person voting at a location to be determined. Any registered Boone County voter with a voter registration affiliation of Democratic or Unaffiliated can participate. For more information, please contact Lyra Noce with the Boone County Democratic Central Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voters that are interested in participating in the Missouri Libertarian Party selection process can participate in their State Convention on February 24. More information is available on their website at https://lpmo.org/.
Audrain County Republicans will hold theirs 10 a.m., March 2 in the Farnen Community Room, Audrain County Courthouse, 101 N Jefferson, Mexico.
Information regarding the Audrain County Democrat and Libertarian caucuses was not available by Fireside Guard press time and will be published as it becomes available.
Ashcroft shared a few other concerns.
“If you are one of our finest young men and women Uncle Sam has sent across the world to defend our freedoms, how do you make sure you can participate in a caucus as easily as you can participate in a presidential preference primary.”
Additionally, he said while he normally liked taking things out of the government’s hands, in this case he hoped the political parties have done their due diligence. “I’ve worked for about seven years to make sure Missouri was the gold standard for elections and I just want to get the word out.”
He also discussed factors which he thought led to the change from primaries to causes:
*Local election authorities, county clerks, did not like that they had two elections within 30 days of each other. “The preparation for an election is really measured in months, not in days. That created problems. We had voters that would send in the absentee ballot for the presidential election primary to the municipal election and vice versa.” He said clerks “wanted to get away from that confusion.”
*There were individuals that wanted to move the caucus up, because they thought that would make the presidential contenders pay more attention to Missouri.
* The thought that it would save the state about $10 million, “and it should,” Ashcroft said.
* And also, there were individuals that were concerned that when we had a presidential primary, Democrats could vote on the Republican side. Libertarians could vote on the Democrats’ side, however they wanted. People felt like if you had the parties in charge of it, they could ensure Republicans only got to decide on the Republican nominee, Democrats only got to decide on the Democrat nominee and so forth.”
He said he expected a lot discussion about how things worked out, after the election.
Centralia Fireside Guard columnist and observer of politics, local and national, Jessica Orsini discussed the issue in detail in her April 5, 2023 column, reprinted here in its entirety.
“Last summer, Missouri House Bill 1878 passed into law, changing elections in this state. If you’ve taken part in the early voting now available up to two weeks prior to an election, or found yourself called upon for particular forms of photo ID when doing so, you have already seen part of this law in action. What you have not is another part, included without much fanfare, that shifts Missouri from a presidential primary to a presidential caucus.
Primaries are simple enough: you fill out a ballot for the party of your choice, and the candidate with the most votes is the party’s nominee for that office. Presidential primaries are a little more complicated, inasmuch as the individual parties determine how to split up the delegates based upon the primary results, either roughly proportional to the primary vote or “winner takes all” or somewhere between; still, the process for the voter is fairly quick and clean. This is not the case for a caucus.
You may have watched, in past years, our northern neighbors go through the caucus process. Iowans who take part gather together in loud, crowded rooms for the better part of a day, effectively trying to convince each other who should be their party’s nominee for the presidential election. They split into groups by favored candidate, do rough head counts, debate some more, rinse and repeat, and eventually come out with a decision that appoints delegates to the county caucus. Then they go through the whole rigmarole again at the county level, and yet again at the state level.
There’s nothing quick or clean about a caucus. There’s also nothing particularly accessible about it: if you have to work that day, or have health or disability issues, or can neither arrange child care nor be willing to drag your kids through the process, you’re out of luck, frozen out of the nomination process. Caucuses have notoriously low turnout as a result of all this. Yet, for reasons that have never been explained, this is the process into which Missourians have now been thrown, courtesy of HB 1878.
There is currently a bill in the House, HB 347, that looks to return us to a primary state. It remains to be seen whether it will pass the House, let alone receive the necessary time in the Senate to have a chance there. I am cautiously hopeful. But it doesn’t correct the other quiet change inflicted upon us by last year’s bill.
You see, HB 1878 also switched voter registration in Missouri to a partisan basis; that is, you register as a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Unaffiliated, starting in January of this year. If you’re wondering why you didn’t know about this, it’s because there has been no notification made to registered voters; if you haven’t updated your registration, you’re currently deemed unaffiliated. When I reached out to the office of the Secretary of State to ask why registered voters have not been notified, I was flatly told, “because the law does not require notification”. You may not think this a problem…except that the state parties can, at their option, decide to hold either “open” (any registered voter can takepart), “semi-closed” (open to only registered party members and unaffiliated), or “closed” (open only to registered party members) caucuses or even primaries; unlike previous presidential primaries, where you could show up and choose which ballot to fill out, you might show up next year and be told that you can’t participate. Further confusing the issue, the new voter registration card that gives you the option to choose party affiliation does not have a check box for “Change Party Affiliation’’; if you want to do so and you’re already registered, you have to check the box for “Change Address” (another tidbit I had to call the Secretary of State’s office to discover, as it is not included in the instructions provided with the card and is in no way intuitive).
I don’t claim to know why our legislature opted to go down these particular troublesome roads. But I do know that an informed electorate is the most effective electorate, and that our state government has quite deliberately neglected to inform the electorate of these potential pitfalls; that decision by the state falls somewhere between worrisome and downright frustrating.”