GOP caucus set on March 2, Democrat ‘primary-style’ gathering slated March 23

By Roxie Murphy, Assistant Editor
Posted 1/10/24

Jefferson City — Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said Jan. 3 that information regarding the state’s move from a Presidential Preference Primary run by the state to a Caucus …

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GOP caucus set on March 2, Democrat ‘primary-style’ gathering slated March 23


Jefferson City — Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said Jan. 3 that information regarding the state’s move from a Presidential Preference Primary run by the state to a Caucus operated by the political parties has left a chasm of questions for voters.

Information regarding the time and place of each party’s Caucus is still unconfirmed. Ashcroft believed at the time both parties had agreed to March 2 gatherings, an “overview and schedule” of the Missouri Democrat Party shows March 23 as it’s scheduled Presidential Caucus. On the document listed for Saturday, March 23, is “Presidential Preference Primary” where candidates receiving “15 percent of the vote will qualify to participate in the Caucus.” The Republican Party is planning a state-wide March 2 traditional Caucus.

Until Jan. 9, information from both parties about their plans were scarce.

“It’s really scary because the parties have not done a good job about putting out information about it,” Ashcroft said this past Wednesday. “The primaries were run by the state so there were statutory guidelines that we had to follow. We knew what those were. We could get those out and work with local election authorities, libraries, and news media to get information out. The caucus, though, is entirely run by individual parties.”

As Secretary of State, Ashcroft is the election authority.

“Because it is a Caucus, I have no say,” he said. “I have no authority over a Caucus. This is a selection process. For several years, we’ve tried to push for the people of Missouri to look to us about the process. Not about candidates, not about campaigns, but about ‘here’s election day. Here’s what you will need to vote. Here’s where your polling places are gonna be.’ Everything else, the candidates and campaigns are going to deal with.”

Each political entity could have its own rules and dates for residents of Missouri’s 114 counties to show up and decide who its candidate will be.

“It looks like the Republican Party is going to be meeting on March 2nd in every county across the state in an Iowa-style Caucus to pick who the delegates will be,” Ashcroft said. “The Democrat Party, it appears, are going to have a mail-in primary that they will do themselves. I say ‘it appears’ because they have not finalized this and told us.”

On Jan. 3, dates still seem to be tentative. Ashcroft said March 2 wasn’t confirmed, and his statement was backed by the fact that local party chairs, such as the Maries County Democratic Party Chairman Darrell Schulte on Jan. 8, said March 23 is the county’s Democratic Preference Primary-style Caucus.

“I attended a Zoom meeting on this in December and they were talking about March 23,” Schulte said on Monday in response to when the party’s Caucus will happen. “We are going to do more of a Primary versus a Caucus where they just come in and cast their vote. We think there will be one location in rural countries, that they will only have one polling place.”

Schulte didn’t mention where the Democratic Primary-style Caucus will be held, only that they were sure they had a place but hadn’t asked permission yet.

A member of the Gasconade County Clerk’s office staff said on Jan. 8 they had reached out to the Secretary of State’s Office in December to help voters find more information and believed both Caucuses would happen on March 30. Attempts to find out for sure have met with many answers, the best answer is that dates remain tentative at this time.

“We have been reaching out for weeks for them to make a decision and finalize things so we can push things out to the people,” Ashcroft said on Jan. 3. “Why it is so important to tell people about it is if you’re a Democrat, the last I heard from the party, which has not been finalized, is you would only be able to vote if you are affiliated as a Democrat in your voter registration. Missouri doesn’t require you to register as any party when you register to vote.”

Missourians used to be ineligible to declare a party preference until a 2022 House Bill that took effect on Jan. 1, 2023, said voters could align with a party when they registered to vote.

“Many people don’t know about that, so I need to know if that’s gonna be part of the rules and information so we can get that out,” Ashcroft said. “It wouldn’t change or restrict what ballot you could get during a primary.”

Ashcroft believes the Republican Party will hold a traditional Caucus that will include choosing delegates from each county to send to the intermediate Caucus that’ll pick a smaller number of delegates to the state convention. From those numbers, a smaller number of delegates will be sent to the National Nominating Convention. Additionally, the party’s leadership can decide if delegates should go to a different candidate.

“Most people think we have had a Presidential Primary in the last several cycles,” Ashcroft said. “We have had a Presidential Preference Primary — we had a Primary that didn’t select delegates. After the Primary, there was a Caucus that would select who the delegates were to go to the National Nominating Convention. Around 15 percent of the times they have done that, they have decided the delegates would not vote for whoever has won the primary. Sometimes, it is not that infrequent, there are far more names on the ballot than there are in the presidential race at the time.”

The question of Caucus versus Primary came up several years ago, according to Ashcroft who has been Secretary of State since 2017.

“Several years ago I said ‘let’s get rid of the Primary and save $10 million every four years,’ which is really just a drop in the bucket. Go to a Caucus,” Ashcroft said. “Then the more I thought about it, I said ‘let’s get rid of one of them and not do both.’ If you’re gonna have a primary, let’s use the primary so the people actually vote, so the peoples’ votes actually determine the delegate. I was maybe the reason they looked at this to say ‘what are we doing?’”

Ashcroft said changing the state from Primary to Caucus was not part of his agenda, but it was an amendment to the election bill in 2022 and passed on May 3, 2023.

“I think what people like about the Caucus is it allows the party to do a better job of making sure the Republicans pick the Republican nominee and the Democrats pick the Democrat nominee. I think that’s the way it should be,” Ashcroft said. “But the concern with the Caucus, what about the young men and women serving overseas? How do we make sure they can participate? Because in a Caucus, they have no say. I have no authority over the Caucus.”

Using the Caucus as a candidate selection process means private party organizations tally votes. The Secretary of State’s Office can offer advice, but has no authority in the overall process.

“All I can do is get out on the media and plead with them to let me know what the rules are so I can get it out to the state,” Ashcroft said. “It scares me that there is going to be confusion and for seven years now, I have worked as hard as I can to make sure people have confidence in our elections and that there isn’t confusion and now I see this Caucus coming up that I don’t have any legal authority over.”

Ashcroft said once more information is known, his office will be announcing details on the Secretary of State’s webpage.

“I trust the people of this state,” he said. “I think when they are informed and participate they come up with good decisions. I do prefer they be self-educated. We are looking at options but we are running out of time. I don’t mean to beat on the parties, but this is important and the last thing you want is people not to know what the rules are until the last minute. You want to get the rules out so everyone knows what they are and not change them at the last minute.”

The change to the candidate selection process came via House Bill (HB)1878.

The rules regarding the Caucus events for both parties became available late Tuesday afternoon. Information will be reported in next week’s edition.

Gasconade County Republican Central Committee Chair Carol Keller said on Monday that the party has set rules for the traditional caucus on March 2 with a location to be determined. The Republican Party’s rules for the event are set, however, the location is tentative until after the Jan. 11 meeting when it is expected to be confirmed.

“I will know a whole lot more after Thursday evening when the Republican Central Committee meets and we end up making some final decisions,” Keller said of their scheduled Jan. 11 meeting. “The caucus is March 2nd. It will start officially at 10 a.m. — Time-wise will depend on the number of people and voting. Doors close at 10 a.m. so people can’t wander in and out.”