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Missouri political parties grudgingly organize contests to select presidential delegates

An illustration of a USA road to the U.S. White House.
Caroline Amenabar
NPR; Lolly Knit/Flickr

Missouri Republicans and Democrats typically don’t agree on much, but they're united in irritation over the legislature’s decision to ditch the state-run presidential primaries.

State lawmakers eliminated the primary in 2022 and instead placed political parties in charge of the process for divvying up presidential delegates. Before 2022, local election officials, such as county clerks and election authorities, were in charge of running presidential primaries.

During Friday’s episode of The Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air, Missouri Democratic Party Executive Director Matthew Patterson and GOP political activist Chris Grahn-Howard talked about how the state’s political parties are trying to make the best of the situation.

Patterson said the Democratic process will resemble a primary, with mail-in voting and in-person voting throughout the state on March 23. The entire contest is expected to cost $150,000 to $200,000, with the Democratic National Committee picking up some of the cost.

“We felt like that was the best way to get as many people involved as possible,” Patterson said.

The Missouri GOP caucus will resemble Iowa's, in which people will go to select locations in the state’s counties and vote in groups on whom they want to support for president. Grahn-Howard said voters should expect to be present in the caucus for about three hours. He said the Democrats' process would have been too costly for Republicans.

“And so then we were left with a caucus,” Grahn-Howard said. “We've done caucuses before in 2012 and 1996. And so we just built a process that we felt was cleaner and more efficient than those years.”

Frustration over lack of legislative action

One of the proponents of getting rid of the primary was Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who told St. Louis Public Radio last month that he had concerns about the cost and purpose of the contest because there was nothing tying the delegates to the primary vote.

“If we're going to have an election, the election needs to be the one that actually determines those delegates,” Ashcroft said. “And we need to make sure that every election we hold in Missouri, the people of Missouri’s votes count.”

Ashcroft said he tried to revive the primary with the stipulation that the result would determine how delegates are selected. He said he was especially concerned about a caucus being able to allow for military personnel to participate. Grahn-Howard said the legislature’s decision in 2022 “disenfranchised” Missouri residents who serve overseas.

Grahn-Howard also said Missouri Republicans have tied the result of the primary to how delegates are allocated since 2016.

He said the legislature shouldn’t have the ability to micromanage political party rules, especially since they’re private entities.

“And they can create the rules to determine how their delegates are allocated,” Grahn-Howard said.

Even though President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will likely be the nominees, Ashcroft said the delegate selection processes are still important to the top race of the 2024 election cycle.

“We are better off with more everyday people like you and me participating, instead of just assuming that the people we've elected know what they're doing,” Ashcroft said.

Both Grahn-Howard and Patterson said they hope that lawmakers switch back to a state-run primary for the 2028 presidential election, which probably will feature open races for both parties.

“I think just from the outcry from Democrats and Republicans and unaffiliated voters, that legislators will do the right thing and restore the primary,” Patterson said.

Listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Listen to Matthew Patterson and Chris Grahn-Howard on 'St. Louis on the Air'

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.