Election Officials were turning in ballots for the April 4th, 2023, municipal election. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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In order to have a say in selecting the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in 2024, Missourians will be required to pledge loyalty to the party they align themselves with.

The passage of Missouri House Bill 1878 eliminated the state-run presidential preference primary. Missouri’s political parties are left with the responsibility of running the candidate selection process, however they may choose.

The Missouri Republican Party is holding its first statewide caucus since 1996 to select a presidential candidate, while the Missouri Democratic Party will run its own presidential preference primary election with paper ballots.

While the change was spearheaded and passed by a Republican controlled state legislature, Greene County Republican Central Committee Chair Danette Proctor said that the Missouri Republican Party lobbied for the reinstatement of the state-run presidential preference primary. Its elimination burdens each party with election costs and voters with requirements to pledge party loyalty. 

Missouri Democrats, Republicans diverge in selection process

While caucuses — for the purpose of selecting delegates for the state and congressional conventions — are nothing new for either party, a caucus to select a presidential candidate will be new for many Missouri voters.

Proctor said she is concerned how caucuses could impact voter turnout, because it doesn’t afford the same voting opportunity as a primary.

Greene County Republican Central Committee Chair Danette Proctor. (Photo provided by Danette Proctor)

“This way, yeah, you got the opportunity, but you’ve got to be free on that Saturday and you’ve got to dedicate that whole day, because that may last two hours — you’ve got to be prepared to be there all day long and that’s hindering a lot of people,” Proctor said.

The Greene County 2024 Republican presidential caucus will be held March 2, at 10 a.m. at an undetermined location. In order to participate, voters are required to be registered to vote in Greene County, show photo identification, register for the caucus itself and sign a statement that pledges allegiance to the Republican Party.

Prospective participants will be able to preregister for the caucus online — though online registration is not yet available — or in-person at the caucus venue. Voters will then join the camp of whichever Republican candidate they support. Any candidate who receives less than 15 percent of the vote will be dropped, and their supporters can fan out to support the surviving candidates in the next round. A plurality outcome will “prorate” the delegates for each candidate, whereas any candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote will win. 

While the Democratic primary may provide a familiar process to Missouri voters, Democratic Party rules have introduced changes.

Like the Missouri Republican Party, the Democratic Party is also responsible for paying election costs, and would prefer the state-run presidential preference primary be reinstated. The Democratic primary will be held on March 23, with mail-in ballots required to be requested by March 12, and also due on March 23. Greene County Democrats plan on having multiple polling locations throughout Greene County, but the locations and times will be different from typical elections. 

The Greene County Democratic Party’s headquarters are at 176 East Fremont Avenue. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

In order to vote in the Democratic primary, voters who are not registered as Democrats will be required to sign a loyalty pledge, according to Greene County Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Smith. If enough candidates are eligible to make the ballot, the Democratic presidential preference primary will also introduce ranked-choice voting.

The Missouri Democratic Party will still hold a caucus, but only to select delegates to send to the party conventions. 

In the meantime, both Missouri Democrats and Republicans hope to get the word out about the different landscape voters can expect in 2024 if they want to have a say in their party’s choice of presidential candidate.

Both party’s rules for the 2024 delegate selection process await final approval.

Voluntary party affiliation helpful, but not necessary

Alongside the elimination of the state-run presidential preference primary, Missouri reinstated voluntary party affiliation on voter registration, which gives people the option to include their political party on their voter registration. The option to declare a party will be available to new voters and existing voters, essentially allowing them to re-register with party affiliation. 

While the pledges are required in order for Democratic and Republican voters to participate in their respective primary and caucus, and party affiliation on voter registration is voluntary, Democrats and Republicans are encouraging voters to affiliate.

Party affiliation allows both parties to more effectively identify voters as a “good get-out-the-vote tool,” according to Proctor.

“If you’re a Democrat registered as a Democrat, you will receive more of the information that we put out, the mailings, you’ll be more aware of activities within the Democrat Party,” said Greene County Democratic Party Chair Lanae Gillespie.

Gillespie said that she doesn’t understand why Missouri reinstated affiliation with voter registration, saying that it serves no purpose since the state eliminated the state-run presidential preference primary anyway.

Even then, Smith said, it only makes sense in a closed primary.

Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller said there is a push for a closed primary system in Missouri, which would require party affiliation on voter registration. Schoeller added that Missouri’s new voluntary party affiliation could be helpful for candidates on the campaign trail in identifying their respective party’s voters.

County Clerk Shane Schoeller attends a meeting of the Greene County Commissioners in the Old Historic Courthouse in Springfield, MO on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@sgfcitizen.org or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee