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OUR OPINION: Bring back presidential primary

by News Tribune | March 19, 2023 at 3:20 a.m.

Voting is the fuel that powers America's democracy. Through this sacred right, we are given the opportunity to have a say in how our government is run and who will represent us in those decisions.

Taking away a person's power to influence who is on the ballot is in many ways as important as the right to vote itself. The right to vote is no right at all if you don't have the ability to have input on who is going to be on the ballot.

A bill being considered this week strives to ensure all Missourians have a better chance of having input by reinstating the presidential primary for the 2024 elections.

On the last day of the 2022 legislative session, the Senate put an amendment on an election bill that would eliminate the presidential primary and would have the state stage caucuses to select its choices for presidential candidates. The Senate passed the bill with the amendment and then went home. The House had to either pass the entire election bill or kill it. The House passed it.

Caucuses were once the most common way of choosing presidential nominees. But now, only a handful of states use the caucus system. Caucus meetings are arranged by either the state or political party to take place at a specific place and time. In a caucus, participants are allowed to openly show support for candidates, and voting is often done by raising hands or breaking into small groups representing the candidate they prefer. At the end of the caucus, delegates are selected for the national nominating convention for each political party.

Primaries are a direct, statewide process of selecting candidates and delegates. Primary voters cast secret ballots for the candidates of their choosing. The results will determine who the delegates will support at the national convention of each party.

While it is possible for many voters to attend a caucus and vote, it requires a far greater time investment than going to the polls to vote. The primary offers Missourians the flexibility of voting throughout the day on Election Day, as well as voting absentee should that need exist.

A caucus does not offer that flexibility. And that can lead to less participation by the electorate.

Caucuses generally have lower participation among voters and more involvement by party activists. As an example, the turnout rate in the 2016 presidential primary in Missouri was 34.8 percent; it was 15.7 percent in Iowa's caucuses.

House Bill 347, which is being sponsored by Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Jefferson City, would reinstate the presidential primary. It's scheduled to be heard at noon Wednesday before the House Special Committee on Public Policy in House hearing room 117.

"By eliminating the presidential primary, we are telling 99.5 percent of Missourians we do not want their input into picking the presidential primary candidates," Veit has said. "On one hand, we want to encourage people to vote and in the next hand we are taking away their right to participate. From my personal experience, in my family everyone participates in the elections and if we had a caucus method, I don't think anyone would feel comfortable participating.

"What is the right to vote if you do not have input on what candidates go on the ballot?" Veit asked.

A presidential primary would give more Missourians that input and would help to build confidence and engagement in Missouri's elections.

-- News Tribune

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