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Votes unequal in Mo. congressional race

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The American political standard of "one person, one vote" will not apply when nominees are chosen to replace U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who is expected to resign this week from her southeast Missouri congressional seat.

Most of the nearly 487,000 registered voters in Emerson's district will not get to cast ballots to decide the party nominees. Some will get to vote twice. And a few people will get to vote who don't even live in the district.

Sound odd?

The peculiarities are a result of Missouri's laws setting forth the process for filling congressional vacancies.

Unlike for general elections, there will be no primary to pick the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Constitution party nominees for the special election to replace Emerson. Missouri law gives that nominating function to political party committees. And that's where the quirks start to mount.

Missouri has lots of different types of party committees. In addition to state party committees, there are party panels for each U.S. House district, state Senate district, state House district, judicial district and county.

State law says the congressional district committees get to nominate candidates for vacant U.S. House seats. According to law, congressional district committee are to be composed of the chair and vice chair of each county committee, plus the committee chair and vice chair of each Missouri House district that is at least partially within the U.S. House district.

Thus it's possible that some members of a congressional district committee could vote twice — once as a representative of a county committee and again as a representative of a state legislative district committee.

Because of overlapping boundaries, it's also possible that the chair of a state House committee could live outside the boundaries of the 8th Congressional District but still get to vote on the nomination.

Both scenarios are real.

According to an Associated Press analysis of the roster of the Republican 8th District Congressional Committee, 14 people will get to cast two votes because they hold two political titles. And it appears that six of the 8th District committee members actually live outside the district.

One of the most influential households will be that of Janet and George Engelbach of Hillsboro, who live on the very northernmost edge of the sprawling 8th Congressional District. Janet will get two votes as chairwoman of both the Jefferson County Republicans and the GOP's 114th state House District. George will get a vote as chairman of the GOP's 112th state House District. The fact that the Engelbachs don't live in the 112th state House District doesn't matter, because the Republican Party says there is no requirement that district officers be residents.

All told, 86 people will be eligible to cast a total of 100 votes for the Republican nomination. Nearly one quarter of those votes will come from just 10 households.

Janet Engelbach said she plans to cast her two votes for the same candidate, though she hasn't decided on a favorite.

Does that make her feel powerful? "Absolutely not," she answers with a laugh.

At least Engelbach lives in the 8th Congressional District.

MaryPat Luebbering lives in the 3rd Congressional District in rural Osage County — not really even that close to the 8th Congressional District. Yet Luebbering is one of the outsiders who will help pick the Republican nominee to replace Emerson. That's because she is chairwoman of the GOP's 62nd state House District, which stretches down from central Missouri into the northern edge of Phelps County, which is in the 8th Congressional District.

Luebbering said she traveled to a candidate forum in the 8th Congressional District and has talked with other committee members who live there to get their impressions of the candidates. She plans to vote for someone who wants to go to Washington "to make a difference, not to make a name for themselves."

While Luebbering and several other non-residents can cast votes, some areas in the 8th Congressional District will have little or no voice on the selection committee. That's because the Republicans in those counties — or their associated state House districts — failed to organize by naming a chair and vice chair last August as required by state law. The Republicans in Pemiscot County, for example, will be shut out of the nomination process.

Most of the focus in the 8th Congressional District is on the Republican nomination, because voters there have tended to favor Republicans over Democrats.

Missouri Republican Party Chairman Ed Martin acknowledged that the quirks in the nominating laws are not ideal. Although some party insiders like their ability to hand-pick a nominee, Martin said he would prefer a traditional primary in which candidates appeal directly to voters.

"I'm in favor of more voters participating and less committees making decisions," Martin said. "But hey, we have the system we have, and we've got to make it work."

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