COLUMBIA — In the first step of a three-level caucus process, Boone County Republicans voted to send a delegation comprised mainly of Ron Paul supporters to the 4th Congressional District Convention in Sedalia on April 21.
A total of 468 people registered as delegates or voters in Saturday’s proceedings, which took place at Kemper Arena in Columbia.
Organizers handed out several colors of name tags to the unexpectedly large crowd lined up outside after they ran out of the original red badges before the doors opened at 9:30 a.m.
Delegate nominee Eric Albert, the 32nd person in line, said he had been waiting since 8:20 a.m. Delegates were to appear on the ballot in the order that they registered, making an early arrival a beneficial strategy.
“The early bird either gets stepped on or gets the worm,” Albert said.
But not a single ballot was cast Saturday.
When formal procedures began nearly two hours behind schedule, a group of Ron Paul supporters contested the nomination of Bruce Cornett, the chairman of the Boone County Republican Central Committee, as caucus chairman.
They made a motion to appoint Chris Voisey, a member of the Paul faction, instead. The approval of this motion was marked by a raucous “Aye.”
Committee member Bill Samuels urged his party colleagues to stick together. “Remember, we are all Republicans. That which unites us is still more important than the things that divide us.”
What united caucus-goers most was neither policy nor creed but rather confusion.
“I’m surprised by the complexity of it,” said Chris Will, 29, of Columbia. “I thought it would be more straightforward.”
The Boone County Republican Central Committee had planned on a proportional voting system. Willing delegates unofficially declared the candidate they would support when they registered, and that choice was to be noted on the ballot. The resulting delegation would consist of delegates in equal proportion to voter support at the caucus.
After a series of debates about recess and then a recess, the rule committee appointed by Voisey recommended a slate voting system. The crowd approved. This pitted candidate-specific lists of 53 delegates against one another rather than allowing voters to pick and choose from a comprehensive ballot.
Rick Santorum’s supporters were given extra time to sign up the legally required 53 delegates. Romney had no slate assembled on his behalf.
Mike Bellman, a Paul supporter, said the absence of a Mitt Romney slate was no surprise. A deal was allegedly brokered between the two camps that ensured a small number of Romney delegates would be sent on to Sedalia should the Paul slate emerge the victor.
The Paul camp played upbeat music with lyrics touting the candidate’s qualifications.
Ultimately there were two slates: one for Santorum and one for the Boone County Conservatives, which included 48 delegates in favor of Paul and five who supported Romney.
Votes were tallied by show of hands. The Boone County Conservative slate won 238-108 to send delegates to the Congressional District Convention on April 21. Their alternates were also chosen 255-88.
In April, three delegates will be selected from each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. The resulting 24 delegates are bound to the candidate they select on their first ballot at the national convention.
*The slates of delegates and alternates chosen by Saturday's vote will also be sent to the state convention June 2.
The party chairman, national committee man and national committee woman are automatically delegates, bringing the total number of delegates Missouri sends to the Republican National Convention to 52.
While some people seemed unhappy with the use of a caucus instead of a primary, Mike McMillen, 51, of Columbia, was not. The last time Missouri relied solely on caucuses was in 1996.
This was McMillen's first time at a caucus, but he said he prefers it to a primary.
“I trust this more than a primary and national elections that use electronic voting machines because machines can be manipulated,” he said. “The people coming to a caucus are usually more educated on the facts and the politicians’ stances.”
Other participants were less thrilled with the day’s proceedings.
Cheri Reisch, vice-chairwoman of the Boone County Republic Central Committee, described the assumption of leadership by Paul supporters as a “hostile takeover” but said the day’s result is what happens in a democracy.
“The minority must be heard, but the majority must prevail,” Reisch said.