Our Opinion: Lawmakers primarily create fine mess for Jefferson City

Well, state lawmakers, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten the municipalities into.

When the Legislature earlier this year approved a law to eliminate the February primary and June elections, the law of unintended consequences also was triggered.

A consequence in this case was action Monday by the Jefferson City Council to schedule its primary in March — a postponement from the traditional February date.

The action set in motion yet another consequence because the ballot for the April election is printed prior to the March primary date.

How did this fine mess occur?

Lack of foresight by state lawmakers is the answer — or, in the words of City Attorney Drew Hilpert, the legislature was “stupid.”

During the regular session, lawmakers approved and the governor signed a bill to abolish the February and June election dates. The rationale was downsizing the number of annual election dates would save money and prevent governments from “slipping things past the voters.”

(As an aside, we find the latter argument disingenuous; no issue “slips through” in this age of perpetual news coverage).

Jefferson City officials were informed by their state counterparts the change would not impact charter cities, including ours.

That information was not entirely correct.

Jefferson City would have been exempt if its charter specified a February primary. It does not.

Consequently, the city’s options are: amend the charter to specify February; eliminate the primary completely; or move it.

The first two options are impossible to accomplish before next year’s primary, because either would require passage of a charter amendment, which cannot be placed before voters until the April election.

The council adopted its only recourse, a March primary, which invites the future ballot-printing problem. Presumably, officials will cross that bridge as they approach it, rather than when they arrive at it.

In the interim, council members are likely to explore whether Jefferson City voters should decide whether a primary is needed, at all. Municipal elections are nonpartisan and the primary has offered an opportunity to bypass the April election and win an office outright.

Moving the entire process to April is possible, although it creates the possibility of crowded fields for an elective office. For example, a dozen candidates for mayor sets up the possibility of electing a chief executive by a modest plurality.

A future question may be not whether eliminating the February primary is doable, but whether it is desirable.

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