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Low voter turnout expected at Missouri Republican caucuses

A "Vote Here" Sign with two American flags on it sits in front of a busy Columbia road.
Rebecca Smith

COLUMBIA — Would you go to a specific location for two hours on a Saturday morning to have a say in who Missouri's Republican nominee for president is? If you want your vote to count for Donald Trump or Nikki Haley in Missouri, that answer has to be yes.

The Republican presidential primary is moving solely to a caucus for the first time in over a decade. That means voters must show up in-person to a dedicated location in each county at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 2.

Jacob Authement is a PhD candidate studying state legislatures at the University of Missouri. He said the switch back to caucuses won't only change how an individual votes, but also who's able to vote.

"You're going to see more people that are affluent and have a Saturday off. You're not going to see people who work on Saturday mornings. They don't have the two hours at 10 a.m. on Saturday to turn out," Authement said.

The caucus process will likely have a low voter turnout due to this, but the new format does have its benefits, Authement said.

"Caucuses give voters more opportunity to have their voices heard, to change the minds of others," Authement explained. "Rather than just have their one individual vote like a primary would."

Denise Lieberman, director of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, said only the "most devoted and dedicated party stalwarts tend to show up and participate in caucuses."

Lieberman said the Voter Protection Coalition believes in open primaries and finds the caucuses inaccessible.

"Most Missourians who are not deeply involved in their local political parties, they're likely to sit out this process," she said. "And, that means that the results are going to be decided by a very small number of voters for each of the major political parties."

The Democratic presidential primary is on March 23. The party encourages mail-in voting, but will have limited in-person polling locations.

The switch is a product of the Missouri General Assembly's vote to eliminate funding for presidential primaries in 2022, but the desire to return to voting at the polls is bipartisan.

Nick Myers, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, says the caucuses are not ideal.

"We actually prefer the presidential preference primary to the caucus system," he said. "But since we have no presidential preference primary, we're doing the caucus."

The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition has promoted legislation that would move Missouri back to a presidential preference primary, legislation Meyers said the GOP supports

All registered Missouri voters can participate in the Republican caucus. However, voters must sign a pledge stating loyalty to the Republican party.

The window to register to vote before the Republican caucus and Democratic primary is closed.

KOMU 8 is a full-powered NBC affiliate operating as an independent commercial property. As such, KOMU 8 is the only major network affiliate in the United States that acts as a university-owned commercial television station utilizing its newsroom as a working lab for students.
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