WHAT OTHERS SAY: Give Missouri a shot at a real presidential primary

Monday, October 17, 2011 | 10:43 a.m. CDT; updated 7:56 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 17, 2011

Among the many loose ends tangled up in the Missouri General Assembly's mess of a special session is whether voters will be able to participate in a presidential primary next year.

We hope they get the chance. Missouri's open primary — meaning citizens can choose which party's ticket they wish to vote on, regardless of their voter registration — helps promote a robust democracy.

But the primary must have meaning. As of now, the Missouri Republican Party has decreed that delegates to its nominating convention will be chosen through a caucus system to begin in mid-March.

There is no point in spending an estimated $4 million to $7 million to hold a primary that would serve as a straw poll. The best scenario would be for party leaders to reconsider their decision and allow delegates to be chosen through a primary.

But to make that work, lawmakers must get their act together.

Right now the Missouri primary is scheduled for Feb. 7, a date that runs afoul of National Republican Party rules that prohibit most states from holding primaries before March 6.

The ongoing special session has authority to move the primary to the March date. But lawmakers haven't even discussed the matter. Now, because of the state Republican Party's decision, leaders in the state Senate have said they will vote this week on canceling the primary altogether.

Robin Carnahan, the Democratic secretary of state, has correctly protested that idea. As she has noted, Missouri voters, not just party elites, should have a say in which presidential candidates receive the votes of the state's delegates.

Caucuses draw a much more limited and exclusive audience than primaries. Daylong voting in primaries encourages wider participation.

If all of this sounds confusing — it is. And we haven't even reached the part about states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada insisting on ridiculously early primary and caucus dates.

The national parties could end the craziness by adopting a system of rotating regional primaries. States in designated regions would all vote on the same day, and the order of the regional primaries would rotate every presidential cycle.

Of course, a positive change like that would require cooperation among political types. At this point, we'll settle for a meaningful March 6 primary in Missouri.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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