Idaho and Missouri shift to Republican presidential caucuses after lawmakers cancel primaries

Republicans in two states will be using caucuses to make their presidential picks next year after GOP-led legislatures canceled presidential primary elections

David A. Lieb
Tuesday 03 October 2023 14:45 EDT

Republicans in Idaho and Missouri will have to attend caucuses to make their presidential picks next year after the two states' GOP-led legislatures canceled their presidential primaries and then missed a deadline to reinstate them.

Presidential caucuses in both states are planned March 2, putting them near the front of the national presidential selection process. Both states would have been scheduled to hold March 12 primaries, had lawmakers not eliminated them.

Members of Idaho's Republican-led Legislature had talked about calling themselves into a special session to reinstate a primary but failed to agree on a proposal before Sunday's deadline, imposed by the Republican National Committee, for states to submit their 2024 presidential nominating plans.

Idaho lawmakers this year passed cost-saving legislation backed by Republican Secretary of State Phil McGrane that was intended to push the presidential primary to May 21 to coincide with other state primary elections. But the bill inadvertently canceled the March presidential primary without reinstating it at a later date.

In another cost-saving move, Missouri lawmakers last year intentionally canceled the state's presidential primary as part of a broader elections bill backed by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft that also imposed photo identification requirements for voting. Though leaders of the state Republican and Democratic parties both testified in favor of reinstating a presidential primary, lawmakers this year failed to pass legislation doing so.

Instead of voting in a Tuesday primary at traditional polling places, people wanting to participate in the caucuses will need to attend a Saturday meeting of local Republicans. In Idaho, the GOP caucuses will have a single round of voting for presidential candidates.

“We're trying to not make it overwhelming on people — not make it too long — so people can come and vote and leave if they wish,” said Kiira Turnbow, Idaho Republican Party executive director.

In Missouri, polling places normally are open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election days, with a period of absentee voting leading up to then. But participants in the GOP county caucuses must attend a 10 a.m. meeting and be prepared to stay for a while.

“The timetable makes it harder,” acknowledged Missouri Republican Party Chairman Nick Myers, who had urged lawmakers to reinstate a primary. “Let's say you’re a nurse, a first responder, you’re on shift that day, you cannot get off at 10 a.m. to go to your local caucus, then you’re not going to be able to participate."

The Missouri Democratic Party plans to run its own presidential primary using mail-in voting and a March 23 in-person election. Idaho Democrats plan to hold presidential caucuses May 25.

The vast majority of states use primary elections to allocate party delegates to presidential candidates. Iowa, which is traditionally one of the first states to pick presidential candidates, is perhaps the most prominent to use a caucus system.

Republicans in Nevada, another early presidential state, also are planning to use a Feb. 8 caucus system instead of relying on a state-run primary scheduled for two days earlier. The GOP caucuses call for voter identification requirements, paper ballots and same-day voting whereas Nevada election laws used in a state-run primary require universal mail-in ballots, allow early voting and do not require a voter ID at the polls.

While some states shift away from presidential primaries, Kansas is moving toward them. A state law enacted this year sets a March 19 election for presidential primaries. In 2020, the state left it to political parties to decide what to do. Democrats funded and ran their own primary by mail ballot while Republican leaders committed to supporting Donald Trump, then the president, without a vote or any caucuses.

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