Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, April 14, 2014

Missouri's Presidential Primary

We are fast approaching 2016 and the next presidential election. For good or bad, our election cycle has been extended to the point that speculation about candidates, and even polling, have already begun. Here in the General Assembly, we’ve already started to think about how Missouri will handle our next presidential primary.

It is important to note that the primaries are essentially run for the national political parties. Because, in the primary system, the party chooses its candidate to run in the general election, and each party is ultimately in charge of how the overall system works. Each state party controls how it will choose the delegates to its convention. If the state party chooses to use an election, the state runs the election and sets the date.

It is interesting to know that primaries through an election are a fairly new concept. The first state primary wasn’t held until 1956, and they were not prevalent until the 1960s. Prior to that time, the state parties chose their candidates internally, with no vote of the people.

Currently, Missouri has a primary election scheduled for the first Tuesday in February. Because the national parties control the calendar, and because they want Missouri’s primaries to be slightly later in the election process, that poses a problem. Four years ago, the attempts to move the primary to March or later stalled in the Legislature. A second attempt was made in a special session, and then an attempt was made to cancel the primary altogether. Both failed. As a result, Missouri held a primary election, but because of potential penalties, the state party chose to hold a caucus to actually choose its delegates.

The caucuses were a poor choice. I attended the Jackson County caucus and it was not the right way to choose a presidential candidate. Turnout was limited to the size of the room. Procedural votes became more important than actually voting for a candidate. I can’t say for sure that the caucus actually reflected the true choice of county voters.

This year, the national parties have segmented the primary season into three blocks. The first block, scheduled for mid to late January and early February, will be for the traditional “early” states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The rest of February and early March will be for states that select delegates proportionally to the vote (whether caucus or primary). From March 15, primaries are scheduled for states that give the winner the entire delegates, known as “winner-takes-all” states.

Since Missouri is a winner-takes-all state, the earliest we can have a primary (without losing delegates) is March 15. Because of that, I filed Senate Bill 892 to move our election to that date. The one thing I know for sure is that we can’t risk the possibility of caucuses. They disenfranchised too many voters in 2012. SB 892 passed the Senate last week and is now in the House waiting to be referred to committee. Since the House already passed a similar bill, the expectation is that it will pass soon.

It is possible that Kansas City will be named the site for one of the national conventions in June or July of 2016.  The city and an affiliated group have put in a bid, made a presentation and begun raising money. A few weeks ago, Kansas City made the first cut, along with five other cities. It would be great to hold the first convention in our area since 1972.  If that happens, Missouri will certainly want to have its full complement of delegates.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns at any time. We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions, and trying to answer any questions you may have. You can reach us by phone at 573-751-1464, or e-mail at will.kraus@senate.mo.gov.