Like a lot of Missourians, Shelley Swoyer of Jefferson City was surprised to see that the state had switched from its long-used method of selecting presidential primary candidates to a caucus system last June.
“I’m just a voter. I encourage people to vote, I register people to vote. We live in a democracy that extols public participation by voting,” she said. “We should make voting easier and we shouldn’t be creating barriers.”
Last year, the legislature opted to switch back to a caucus system, where members of established political parties meet and divide into groups according to which candidate they want to win. At the end, the number of voters in each group decides how many delegates each candidate wins.
In Missouri, there is currently no rule bounding delegates to their candidates.
Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, said that he planned to introduce a bill reversing the switch from the moment the bill was signed.
Consequently, a special committee on public policy met Wednesday to hear two bills that would reinstate the presidential primary, one sponsored by Veit and another sponsored by Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway, R-Festus.
The bills were presented together and sponsors cited limitations to attending caucuses, limitations to hosting caucuses and a lack of privacy at caucuses as reasons to return to a preference primary system.
As it stands, military service members who are deployed can submit absentee ballots from anywhere in the world, but, caucuses require participation in person.
“We’re asking them to fight and die for us, but we don’t care what they think, (about) their input,” Veit said. First responders and parents with young children were among other groups supporters said would not get input at caucuses.
Fears of disenfranchisement were evident in testimony of both supporters and opponents.
Supporters of the bill raised concerns that rural areas would not have access to the facilities required to host a caucus.
A representative for the Missouri Association of County Clerks testified that having the primary election in March causes confusion for absentee voters who would be casting ballots for the April municipal elections at the same time.
The Republican and Democratic Directors of Elections in St. Louis County testified together for informational purposes about the costs of primary elections being so close to municipal elections.
“It’s gonna require a lot of extra work … to get our machines back so they can run the election in April,” said Rick Stream, the Republican director.
Chair of the Missouri GOP Nick Myers and Chair of the Missouri Democratic Party Russ Carnahan both testified in support of the bill. Carnahan spoke to Missourians’ lack of knowledge that the method was even switched in the first place.
“There’s a big surprise factor out there when folks find out that (preferential primary elections are) not current law right now. The primary process is very, very popular,” he said.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft testified that he’s indifferent to which method the legislature chooses, as long as the peoples’ votes matter.
“Whatever decision this committee goes with, I’m happy to work with language, data,” he said. “What you guys decide, we’ll implement.”
This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online.
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