JEFFERSON CITY — Moving Missouri's primary-election date from August to June would give candidates more time to campaign against their rival party's counterparts, but it would shorten the time they had to distinguish themselves from rivals within their own party before nominees were picked.
Under legislation adopted by a state House panel Tuesday, party primaries in even-numbered years would be set for the first Tuesday after the third Monday in June. Now, the state holds its primary for elections to Congress, the Legislature and statewide offices on the Tuesday after the first Monday in August.
The bill would take effect in 2016, meaning the primary date in that year would be June 21, instead of Aug. 9. The date change would give primary winners about six extra weeks to focus on their opponent from the other party. The starting date for candidate filing would also be moved up from February to January under the bill.
"Moving the date gives us more time to meet the candidates who are going to be running," said sponsoring Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville.
Opponents say the earlier primary date would force incumbent lawmakers to campaign more aggressively during the legislative session, which runs until mid-May. The new date would give lawmakers about half the time to compete against fellow party members after a session ends.
"This would create a whole session that is an election season," said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis. "The whole session would be about elections and not legislation."
During the 2012 election, primary races were the decisive contest in determining who would be elected to the Legislature in many instances. Of the 17 Senate races up for election, five candidates had no general-election opponent and were elected to the Senate because they beat fellow party members in the August primary. An additional four Senate seats were uncontested in either the general election or primary election that year.
The 2012 state House races show a similar pattern. The whole House — 163 seats — was up for grabs, but just 90 races featured November contests between candidates from any two parties. Thirty-three races were decided in a primary, and an additional 40 were uncontested in either election.
The legislation drew support Tuesday from local election authorities, who said it would give them more time to handle possible recounts or court battles for close races.
"We will have a better general election if we have more time to plan, organize and recover from the primary election," Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said.
The House Elections Committee voted 9-2 in favor of the bill on Tuesday. It now heads to the Rules Committee for further consideration before it can go to the House floor for debate.