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Missouri’s new system for nominating presidential candidates

A photo of the outside of the Family Worship Center in Columbia.
Finnegan Belleau
Boone County’s GOP caucus will be held at 10 a.m. March 2 at the Family Worship Center in Columbia. During the caucus, participants will be able to discuss preferred candidates and party platforms before voting.

Missouri’s major political parties are being forced to find new ways of nominating presidential candidates after the legislature voted in 2022 to eliminate funding for a presidential preference primary.

The Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties have each instated separate nomination processes, with election costs being taken on by parties at a state level.

Republican Party: caucus

The Missouri Republican Party will be electing presidential candidates through a caucus, a system in which voters meet in person at centers designated by county. Physical attendance is mandatory to participate, and voters must sign a pledge stating their loyalty to the Republican party.

All counties will be caucusing at 10:00 a.m. March 2. Modeled after the Iowa and Nevada caucuses, the caucus will feature volunteers and paid staffers advocating on behalf of presidential candidates. Volunteers and staffers will give oral presentations to participants, who will then divide themselves into groups based on their preferred candidate.

If any group has less than 15% of the total votes in the room, the group and its candidate are eliminated. Eliminated voters may join another candidate’s group, and votes are then recounted.

After votes are taken, the caucus will discuss the Republican party platform. Voters may introduce amendments to the party platform, and if an amendment receives a majority of participants’ support, it will move on to the Congressional district convention for further consideration in April.

Boone County’s GOP caucus will be held at 10 a.m. March 2 at the Family Worship Center, 4925 E. Bonne Femme Church Road in Columbia. Doors will open at 9 a.m.

Democratic Party: primary

The Missouri Democratic Party is opting for a primary election, a system in which people directly vote for their preferred candidates. States then use the votes to award delegates to presidential candidates.

For the Missouri Democratic Party primary, mail-in votes are encouraged, and in-person voting will be available at limited locations on the morning of March 23. Mail-in ballots can be requested through March 12 on the party’s website or by phone and will be accepted until 10 a.m. March 23.

The Boone County Democratic Party will host in-person voting from 8 a.m. to noon March 23 at Columbia’s Activity and Recreation Center, 1701 Ash St. The party plans to announce its winner by March 28.

Libertarian Party: convention

Candidates for president and vice president will be chosen by Libertarian delegates at the party’s national convention in Washington D.C. in May.

Missourians can contact the party and apply to be delegates for Missouri’s state party convention, which will take place 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Holiday Inn Earth City in St. Louis.

There, party delegates will choose from amongst themselves who to send to the national convention, where delegates will choose a presidential candidate.

KBIA reporter Finnegan Belleau sat down with Columbia Missourian reporter Katie Taranto and Missouri Business Alert reporter Sigi Ris to learn more about how mid-Missourians are adapting to this new system. Taranto and Ris are reporting with the Campaign 2024 team at the Columbia Missourian. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

Finnegan Belleau: So to begin with, what is different about the presidential nomination process in Missouri this year?

Sigi Ris: Yeah, so this election season, the process is being left up to the state's political parties. And instead of the state government kind of overseeing things, each party has to come up with its own process.

Finnegan Belleau: Why are things different this year?

Sigi Ris: So let's kind of go back a little bit to 2022. That year, the Missouri legislature, they voted to cut funding for the presidential preference primary as part of this kind of like larger election bill. And that bill passed without support from any Democratic lawmakers. And it also just changed like a lot of other aspects of Missouri elections. For example, now, voter ID is required to participate in an election.

Finnegan Belleau: How do public officials feel about this new system?

Katie Taranto: There's kind of mixed feelings across the board. You know, Sigi and I, we talked to, we talked to Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, and she's concerned about lower voter participation, just because she feels that a lot of voters out there won't know about these changes until after the voting period is over.

Brianna Lennon: I, I know that it will lead to a lower participation rate. In 2020, we had about 30% turnout. I don't think that that is reasonable to expect in a caucus system.

Katie Taranto: We, we had also spoken with the Secretary of State; we got on a Zoom with Jay Ashcroft. And he also kind of echoed some of that sentiment.

Jay Ashcroft: I'm a little scared. I’ve worked for seven years to make Missouri be a state where we know the results by about 11 o'clock at night, we’re either happy or we’re sad, but we can have our beverage of choice and be done with it.

Katie Taranto: I think his main gripe with it was that this election is kind of out of his hands. And as the Secretary of State normally, that's something that he would like preside over, and he still does. But his role now is just to collect information from the parties. And so each party, it's kind of up to them to send him information. And whatever he receives, he can distribute to voters. But if the parties don't send him information, then he's kind of left out of the loop.

Finnegan Belleau: On the other hand, how are voters reacting to the new system?

Sigi Ris: Yeah, so some voters aren't too happy about it. We saw this when we, Katie and I both attended a Boone County Pachyderms meeting last month, and some Republican voters were expressing their concerns with like the accessibility of the GOP caucus. One woman just said she's worried about her mom who has voted in every election but won't be able to participate in the caucus because she is living in a nursing home. And then another man just said he feels disenfranchised and left out. And to respond to this, MU College Republicans Executive Director Trey Faucheux kind of echoed his own frustration.

Trey Faucheux: It doesn't necessarily save money; I will say. It just shifts the cost. It shifts the cost away from the state and to the political parties within the state.

Finnegan Belleau: And then starting with the Republican Party, what's happening there?

Katie Taranto: That’s gonna look a little different. It definitely won’t be your traditional, like, walk in, put a few marks on a piece of paper, walk out. They’re having a caucus system, which hasn’t been done in the state since 2012. Attendance is mandatory; it’s gonna happen on March 2. And in Boone County, if you’re a Boone County voter, and you are, and you consider yourself a member of the Republican Party, you’ll wanna go to the Family Worship Center on Bonne Femme Church Road in Columbia. And doors will open at 9 a.m.

Sigi Ris: The way that the caucus is going to work is, so doors will open at nine, it's going to start at 10. And they're basically going to be paid staffers who are advocating for candidates, and a bunch of people will state their case for different candidates. And voters will kind of section themselves off in different corners of the room, depending on which candidate they want to, I guess, caucus for, or vote for, or present. And if there's any group that has less than 15% of the votes, that group then has to re-vote, and their original candidate is eliminated. So, they'll go back and re-vote for a candidate who's still kind of in the running.

Finnegan Belleau: In contrast to that, what is the Democratic Party doing this year?

Katie Taranto: Right, so the Democratic Party in Missouri, they're having what would look like a more traditional voting experience; they're hosting a primary election. So what that will look like is in-person voting is happening on March 23. But voters are also encouraged to mail in if that is more convenient for them. Voters can request a mail-in ballot through March 12. And that can be done on the party's website, or just calling them up. In Boone County, that number would be 573-875-1245.

Finnegan Belleau: Got it. And then lastly, what is the Libertarian Party doing?

Katie Taranto: Right, so the Libertarian Party, like the Republican Party, they're doing something a little different than what a traditional presidential preference primary would look like. What they're doing is they're going to host a day long convention, and that'll be in St. Louis. At that convention, they're basically going to select delegates that it'll send to the party's national convention in DC. And that'll happen in May. So the first convention, the one I was just talking about, the statewide one, that will take place at the Holiday Inn Earth City in St. Louis, from nine to five.

Finnegan Belleau: What do you see being the future of this system? Is this something people can expect in future elections?

Katie Taranto: You know, that's a great question. And we it's, it might be too early to tell, but when we did talk with Brianna Lennon, she, she was pretty sure that it would change in the future.

Brianna Lennon: I, if I was a betting woman, I would say that this process will be reverted back to a presidential preference election by the time we get to 2028.

Katie Taranto: And again in our conversation with Ashcroft, you know, talking about having those mixed feelings and being kind of apprehensive about how it’s gonna go. He also saw potential for change in the system.

Jay Ashcroft: This is the process that the legislature, that the law provides for. So we’re just gonna go through it, and it’s gonna go well; I’m sure, and we’ll reevaluate when we’re done.

Finnegan Belleau is a student reporter at KBIA reporting on issues related to elections and local policy in Mid-Missouri.
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