Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Prefiled Bills Seek to Reestablish Missouri Presidential Primary

Yes, that's right. Reestablish

The effort in Missouri to eliminate the presidential primary failed in 2021, but was resurrected earlier this year as part of a state Senate substitute to a House-passed omnibus elections bill. And the impetus behind the push is, well, interesting. 

Eliminating the presidential primary has been a priority of the Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R), and comments he made in a state House Budget Committee hearing during the 2021 push shed some light on what motivated his thinking on the matter. 
“I just hate the idea of presiding over an election when we’re telling people to vote in the primary when I’m saying ‘No you should really vote in the caucus. That’s where your vote matters.’ Legally, the presidential primary is not required in any way to determine where the delegates are apportioned.  
“We’re spending about $8 million this year of Missouri taxpayer dollars and I just don’t think there’s a good return for the people of the state. Now, if we weren’t going to do the caucuses and the presidential preference was what determined it, that’d be a different story.”
[emphasis FHQ's]

What is interesting about those comments is that there has been no apparent change to Missouri Republican Party bylaws since 2020 and and the call to the 2024 Missouri Republican Party Convention has not been issued yet. That is where the die is cast with respect to how the party will allocate delegates to the national convention in the next cycle. 

Sure, the Missouri legislature failed to move the February presidential primary into compliance with national party rules during the 2012 cycle, forcing Republicans to use caucuses to comply. [There was even an effort in early 2012 to cancel what would have been a beauty contest primary like the one Ashcroft describes.] But in both 2016 and 2020, the Missouri Republican Party used the primary to allocate delegates. It selected delegates to fill those allocated slots through the caucus/convention process. But that is the process that most primary states utilize: a two-pronged approach where voters select their presidential preferences in the primary and then delegates are chosen based on those results in a post-primary caucus/convention process. 

Ashcroft and Republicans in the 2022 legislature dropped the presidential primary process altogether and shifted the allocation process into the caucus/convention system as well. 

Only, now there is an effort spearheaded by two Republican legislators to reestablish the presidential primary in time for 2024. Both bills -- Rep. Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway's (R-115th, Jefferson) HB 267 and Rep. Rudy Veit's (R-59th, Cole)  HB 347 -- would reinstate the Missouri presidential primary and schedule it once again for the second Tuesday after the first Monday in March (or March 12 in 2024).

Veit stood against the 2021 effort to strike the presidential primary language from Missouri code, but the politics of the broader elections bill limited him in 2022.
Veit helped kill a bill to eliminate the primary in 2021. But, last spring, when the omnibus election bill arrived in the House from the Senate, he couldn’t move to extract that provision.  
“We’d have had to kill the whole election bill, so it didn’t get done.”
Neither bill has a co-sponsor, but both appear to be identical. And it is an open question as to whether other Republicans in the House, much less the Senate, will go along with either to put the presidential primary back in place. However, if the ups and downs of the 2012 Missouri primary are any indication, things will be interesting. One additional thing is for sure: the answer to whether Republican legislators support either bill may hinge to some degree on 1) who they support in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race and 2) which mode of delegate selection -- primary or caucus -- they think may benefit their preferred candidates (nearly a year out from the contest). 

Donald Trump took the 2016 Missouri Republican presidential primary with a narrow 41 percent plurality.

Both bills have been added to the updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


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