Missouri moving presidential primary to March

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 | 12:21 p.m. CDT; updated 1:30 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 4, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is moving its presidential primary back a month to comply with national Republican and Democratic party guidelines that discourage most states from trying to jump to the front of the 2016 presidential selection process.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Wednesday that will set Missouri's presidential primary on March 15 instead of Feb. 2.

The six-week delay will still place Missouri in the earlier portion of a compressed primary schedule and is the soonest the state could hold its vote without incurring penalties from the Republican National Committee.

The new law seeks to avoid a repeat of 2012, when Missouri's February primary conflicted with similar GOP guidelines and thus was transformed into a non-binding election that was ignored by the eventual Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

"This measure will help avoid the uncertainty and disruption seen in 2012 and ensure more Missourians have a voice in the nomination process," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said in a written statement announcing he had signed the bill.

Missouri has tried before to shift its presidential primary.

Nixon vetoed a bill passed in 2011 by the Republican-led legislature that would have moved the presidential primary from February to early March in an attempt to avoid penalties being imposed on its delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention. Nixon cited objections to unrelated sections in that bill and instead added the presidential primary to the agenda for a fall 2011 special session.

But the election legislation failed to pass during that special session after some Republican senators insisted the state should ignore national party leaders and stick with a February primary.

To avoid delegate penalties, the state GOP decided to treat the February 2012 primary as a non-binding election and instead rely on a series of later caucus meetings to determine which candidates its delegates would support at the Republican National Convention. Missouri's Democratic primary did count toward deciding delegates but was largely meaningless because President Barack Obama faced no serious opposition.

The 2012 presidential primary cost Missouri an estimated $7 million but drew just an 8 percent turnout of registered voters, setting a new low for the state's electoral participation.

For 2016, the Republican National Committee already has adopted rules that embrace February contests only for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and penalize all other states that hold presidential primaries before March 15.

The Democratic National Committee also has proposed to allow February contests only for those four states, with other states waiting until at least March for their presidential primaries or caucuses.

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