WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri's presidential primary date needs a fast fix

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | 11:17 a.m. CDT

An elections bill passed by the Missouri legislature had problems. Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto created more.

Now, Missouri faces the curious situation of voters guaranteed the right to select write-in candidates during local elections but possibly denied the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the next presidential primary.

Some remedial work is clearly in order.

Nixon recently vetoed a bill that, among other things, would have moved Missouri’s 2012 presidential primary from Feb. 7 to March 6 to avoid a scheduling conflict with Iowa and possible censure by the political parties. The governor says he supports the move but rejected the bill because of other objectionable provisions.

One would have canceled some local elections if the number of candidates matched the number of open seats. Nixon correctly pointed out that the provision would have ruled out write-in candidates.

That would be a loss. People and communities should reserve the right to turn to new leaders if, say, unsavory revelations about an unopposed candidate surface before Election Day.

Nixon also objected to a provision calling for a special election to fill a midterm vacancy in a statewide office. Currently, the governor enjoys the privilege of filling a vacancy. It’s no surprise Nixon would be reluctant to give this up.

But it makes no sense for Missourians to miss out on a say in the nomination of presidential candidates. Republicans, especially, are in a lather over the prospect.

A lot of finger-pointing is going on, with Republicans saying Nixon failed to communicate with them about his objections to the bill and Nixon unconvincingly insisting his office was involved as the bill was drafted.

But the task now is to fix the problem. If Nixon convenes a special session to work on an economic development bill, he and the General Assembly should cooperate on legislation setting a March primary date at that time.

Otherwise the state will have to rely on the good graces of national Republican and Democratic party leaders to allow Missouri to schedule a March date and quickly pass a bill when the legislature convenes in January.

A better scenario: Missouri and the rest of the nation could sidestep a lot of drama over primary dates, and vastly improve the electoral process, by supporting a system of regional primaries.

As proposed by the National Association of Secretaries of State, geographically linked states would hold primaries on the same day, and their time slots would rotate every four years so that no one region would enjoy the privilege of always going first.

Reprinted with permission from the Kansas City Star.

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