JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are considering moving back the state's presidential primaries in 2012.
A bill by Republican Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, would change next year's primaries from Feb. 7 to March 6. Missouri held its 2008 presidential primary on Feb. 5.
Engler told a Senate panel Monday the date has to be changed because of rules agreed on last year by the national Republican and Democratic parties. Those rules say only four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — can hold contests in February.
"The powers that be say that we have to change the way things are done or they will not seat the delegates at the convention," Engler said.
Lloyd Smith, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said the Republican National Committee would seat a portion Missouri's delegates even if it held a February primary, but that that portion could be less than half.
A change in the state's primary date could also affect how the Republican National Committee awards those delegates to candidates. Currently, the winner of the Republican primary gets all of the state's delegates. If Missouri's primary moves to March, Republican delegates would be awarded to candidates proportional to the votes they receive, as Democratic delegates are.
Smith said Missouri might not award delegates in direct proportion to the state's popular vote, but might award them based on proportions of the vote a candidate receives in each congressional district. He said the state party has to submit a plan for awarding the delegates to the Republican National Committee by October.
"There's a lot of latitude in that rule," he said. "They gave us many different options for how to do it."
Though Engler said the state party had asked him to put forth legislation changing the primary date, Smith said he might push for the primary date to be moved back to April, one month later than in Engler's measure, when the bill goes to the House.
Smith said that could help the state save money and increase voter turnout because municipal elections are held in April. If Missouri had an April primary, it would keep its "winner-take-all" system.
But Engler said holding the primary in April or later might diminish the state's influence.
"I think there's a fear that the extra four weeks would make Missouri redundant," Engler said. "People still want the ability to have the candidates come to Missouri, plead their case, meet people, but they want their delegates to be seated too."
Smith said the RNC changed the rules to avoid "frontloading," a term for what played out in the 2008 primary season where several states held primaries in February in an attempt to influence results in states with later primaries. Those primaries were held only a few days after the contests that traditionally open the primary season in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Smith said frontloading caused logistical problems for presidential candidates in 2008 who had to be in more states in a shorter time frame.
Missouri Democratic Party chairwoman Susan Montee said Democrats would likely support a change in the primary date because the Democratic National Committee has offered states a chance to seat more delegates if they have later primaries.
Because delegates are often non-politicians elected by party members, being able to send more delegates could help generate enthusiasm and increase turnout among potential Democratic voters.
She said the national Republican and Democratic parties had worked together to form similar primary rules, and she expected similar cooperation at the state level.
"There are a lot of issues to fight over," Montee said. "This doesn't have to be one of them."