JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is moving ahead with plans for a presidential primary that could cost taxpayers several million dollars, although most of the state's political parties plan to use other means to choose their candidates.
Missouri's Feb. 7 presidential primary will be an abnormal vote born from disagreement in the state legislature about whether to comply with national Republican and Democratic guidelines that call for delaying the primary by at least a month.
Voters can cast ballots that day, but Missouri Republicans will use a caucus process starting in mid-March to select their delegates to the national convention. Democrats have not announced what they will do, but with President Barack Obama running for re-election, their primary is not expected to be competitive.
Leaders for the Constitution and Libertarian parties said their presidential candidates are chosen through conventions, so the results from the Missouri primary will not make much difference.
Some Missouri officials have derided the primary as a "beauty contest" or a "straw poll" and sought to cancel it because the results won't be binding. One senator presented a list last week of state programs that could be funded for what it would cost to hold the primary.
"There was absolutely, positively no reason to have the primary vote this year other than to waste taxpayer money in the tune of millions," said Missouri House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka.
The secretary of state's office has said Missouri's 2008 presidential primaries — which had competitive contests among both Republicans and Democrats — cost about $7 million and involved more than 1.4 million votes cast. In 2004, when only Democrats had a competitive primary because Republican President George W. Bush was running for re-election, the primary cost about $4 million with roughly 543,000 people voting.
A divided Senate deadlocked last week over legislation that would have eliminated next year's primary while bringing it back in 2016. Legislation also has been filed in the House to cancel the primary, though it is unlikely to pass before lawmakers conclude their special legislative session.
Those who favor going forward with the primary said eliminating it could disenfranchise voters and make it harder for them express their preference for president.
Candidates from the Republican, Democratic, Constitution and Libertarian parties can file for the primary beginning Tuesday and continuing through Nov. 22.
Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who favors having a presidential primary, said the issue boils down to whether ordinary voters or the insiders of a political party should get a say in deciding who is nominated.
"There is going to be a primary. The votes will count," Carnahan, a Democrat, said. "The question is whether the parties are going to decide whether they want to reflect the will of the voters or not."
Even if the Missouri primary does not decide anything, it could serve as a measuring stick for public opinion when binding decisions are made, officials said.
"If the primary stays in place, I think it will still have some impact — it won't be binding on the delegates. But if it's still in place, I would urge people to go vote and make their views known," Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith said.