Missouri legislators push for earlier primary elections

The elections would be first affected in 2016.

A Hartville legislator’s proposal would move up state primary elections from August to June.

The bill, sponsor Republican Rep. Tony Dugger said, would give election officials more time to prepare for the November general election following the primaries and cut down on administrative costs.

Those costs range from overtime pay to temporary hires, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said. Noren, who also testified last week in support of the bill, said the county would be more able to budget for the general election if it had an earlier glimpse of what’s to come in November.

“The more time you have between the primary and the general (election) to resolve issues to come up in the primary, the better off you are,” Noren said.

At present, the primary is held every even-numbered year on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August. Dugger’s bill would move the election to the first Tuesday after the third Monday in June.

Currently, there’s a 12-week window between the two elections. Noren said that’s not enough, especially compared to the lengthy four-month candidate filing period that, at least for now, precedes the primary.

Criticism came from lawmakers who argued on the floor that an earlier primary would make incumbent candidates more focused on campaigning than legislating. It’s a criticism Dugger refutes.

Dugger said he hopes most lawmakers will do their jobs regardless of whether they are under the campaign microscope.

“You are elected for a two-year term, and during those two years, you should focus on doing your best to emulate the wishes and demands of those who sent you to Jefferson City,” Dugger said in an email. “If you are truly focused on that, then I don’t think it necessarily matters when the election is.”

Dugger noted the vast majority of Missouri legislators run unopposed in the primaries. Only two of this year’s 17 Senate incumbents up for re-election will face same-party challengers, and only 12 of 163 representatives could see the same, Dugger said.

“Most of the contests, if there are any, happen in the general election. Therefore, I don’t think there will be a major impact,” Dugger said.

Noren also said legislators won’t likely see much difference with Dugger’s bill.

“Honestly, this session is as political as it can get, anyway,” Noren said. “Who’s saying that place isn’t political right now?”

Testifying for the bill alongside Noren was a representative of Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. While Kander’s office said an early primary could affect the governor’s ability to call for special elections, it didn’t want to comment on lawmakers’ assertions that the bill would make legislators’ second sessions more about politicking than policy.

“When evaluating proposed legislation that would alter the calendar or processes for elections in Missouri, our office focuses on the state’s and local election authorities’ ability to carry out elections under the law,” Kander spokeswoman Laura Swinford said in an email. “We certainly don’t focus on the so-called politics or strategy behind these proposals.”

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