Lawmakers discuss doing away with presidential primary election for Missouri voters

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Some lawmakers in Missouri are talking about changing the way Missourians vote and even getting rid of the presidential primary election to save money.

Members of the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee discussed only allowing Missouri voters to use paper ballots. Rep. Peggy McGaugh (R-Carrollton) is the sponsor of House Bill 1065, a large election bill, which includes doing away with Missourians voting in the presidential preference primary election.

“It totally eliminates that particular primary that is held every four years,” McGaugh said.

She said that election costs the state $9 million. Election clerks from around the state testified in favor of the bill.

“With the cost of $55,546 for Johnson County, that breaks out to $31.47 per voter, so that’s a pretty expensive election,” Johnson County Clerk Diane Thompson said.

Instead of voters deciding which two candidates would be nominated for president, it would be up to the party’s caucus. Before 2000, that’s how Missouri nominated a candidate for president. This 2020 primary election was just the sixth president preference primary election in Missouri. 

HB 1065 would also allow an absentee ballot to count if the voter dies after the ballot is cast. McGaugh testified saying some counties count the vote while others don’t.

“Larger jurisdictions, it’s just not feasible and i wouldn’t have any idea how they could search their public records to find if anybody has died once they voted,” Livingston County Clerk Sherry Parks said.

Under McGaugh’s bill, local election authorities wouldn’t have to wait until election day to count absentee ballots. It would allow for absentee ballots to be considered “cast” the day they are received, meaning it can be counted.

Another piece of the legislation would allow those using an absentee ballot without an excuse would have three weeks to fill out their ballot, instead of six, but then voters would be able to return it to a drop box.

“It has come to our attention that last year when we used the COVID excuse, that people really needed an outlet to be able to get their ballot delivered,” McGaugh said.

Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller testified in front of the House committee, expressing his concerns for the drop boxes.

“I get concerned with how those drop boxes could be from one county to the other,” Schoeller said. “When I read the language, it is not clear who would be the definer of that. Not only in the terms of the specifications of the drop box, but how the security of that drop box is monitored.”

Deputy Secretary of State Trish Vincent said the secretary of state’s office would be in charge of the boxes.

No one spoke in opposition of McGaugh’s bill during the hearing.

“Related to the ballot box, the secretary intends to write very succinct rules to outline how those boxes will be secured, where they will be placed and how they will be maintained,” Vincent said. “I think it’s a desire to treat everybody the same.”

Rep. Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis) also presented House Bill 842, which would require Missourians to vote by paper ballot only. This legislation would allow for disabled voters to touch screen machines until 2024, then those voters will be required to use ballot marking devices.

The third bill read during the committee was House Bill 738, sponsored by Rep. Don Rone (R-Portageville), which includes similar provisions to McGaugh’s bill, but also includes candidates to select poll watchers at their own expense to monitor elections.

None of the bills were voted out of committee, but the chairman said members will do so in the coming week.

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