Missouri voters first went to the polls in 1988 to vote in a presidential preference primary (PPP), then again beginning in 2000. But during the 2022 legislative session, the General Assembly decided to do away with the election. Attempts were made by some legislators in 2023 to restore the PPP in Missouri, but those attempts failed.
For several years, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has been seeking elimination of the primary election, testifying before budget committees that the election costs taxpayers more than $9 million every four years. Ashcroft has said the election was only for show anyway.
The presidential preference primary was adopted by the Missouri General Assembly in 1986 for one PPP held in 1988. Some persons at the time said it was aimed at helping then-Congressman Richard Gephardt (D-St. Louis County) in his 1988 presidential campaign quest which was unsuccessful.
Missouri used caucuses in 1992 and 1996, then in 1998 legislators approved a PPP with no expiration date, signed by Gov. Mel Carnahan (D). The state held presidential preference primaries six straight times: in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020.
Instead of heading to the polls every four years to vote in a primary race, political party caucuses get to decide how delegates are awarded.
Ashcroft said, “We’ve subsequently always had the primary and the caucus, but the caucus has actually made the determination about who would receive the votes from Missouri to be president.”
In a caucus, members of each political party meet and divide into groups according to which candidate they want to win. Then the number of votes in each group decides how many delegates are awarded to each candidate.
It has been reported that chairs of both the Missouri Republican Party and the Missouri Democratic Party have said they are in favor of reinstating the primary.
Missouri Democrats plan to hold a presidential primary on March 23, 2024, which will also feature mail-in voting, and 17-year-old voters will be eligible to vote in the primary. A winner will be announced by March 28, 2024. The plan would need final approval by the Democratic National Committee.
Missouri Republicans have announced GOP caucuses will be held on Saturday, March 2, 2024, when registered Republicans can make their presidential pick. Each county will choose its specific caucus location. Republicans can pre-register or may register on-site when the doors open at 8 a.m. on March 2 until the caucuses begin at 10 a.m.