Voters in Missouri will follow a new electoral system when the presidential nominating contest begins in 2024.
When Missouri enacted election law in late June, much of the backlash focused on new voter ID requirements and the implementation of in-person early voting. But lawmakers also moved the state away from primary elections in favor of a caucus system for presidential elections.
Missouri joins a short list of states (Iowa, Nevada, North Dakota, and Wyoming) and territories (American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands) that use caucuses at a time when states have abandoned the caucus system.
Although Missouri used presidential caucuses in 1992 and 1996, the state has held open primaries since the 2000 elections. But those elections were without engagementwhich means that each party could choose whether or not to respect the results of the vote.
Caucuses represent a different attitude toward elections than primaries, focusing on the most enthusiastic supporters rather than broad voter turnout. The Republican and Democratic parties run the caucuses themselves, calling in registered party members to discuss and designate delegates for their candidates, though the procedure differs by state and party.
The primaries, on the other hand, are run by the states, with participation dictated by law. Primaries can be designated either as closed, in which only voters registered for a specific party can participate, or open to all voters.
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According to a PBS analysis, although the caucus system attracts enthusiastic and knowledgeable voters, the dedication and time it takes to make the system work means many voters will be alienated and excluded.
Caucuses have also been criticized for their tendency to only be held for a few hours in some locations away from a voter’s usual compoundthat is, the disenfranchisement of voters who cannot be present for financial or logistical reasons.
Some of the states that still maintain their caucus system have tried to make them more inclusive during the last years.
- Nevada Democrats provided caucus materials in three languages — Tagalog, English and Spanish — in 2020 and allowed early voting rather than requiring voters to attend in person.
- That same year, North Dakota allowed voters to participate by mail provided the ballot was postmarked at least one week before caucus.
- The Democratic Party of Wyoming moved to a priority voting system for his 2020 presidential caucus, allowing candidates to rank five candidates on their ballot. The party also allowed early voting.
Voters also tend to show up at higher rates in primaries than in caucuses. Between 2016 and 2020, four States — Maine, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah – went from a caucus to the primary system. In all four states, voter turnout in the Democratic primaries increased dramatically. In Colorado, for example, the vote count jumped from around 122,000 in the 2016 presidential caucus to more than 755,000 in the 2020 primary, six times as many voters.
In 2020, the Iowa presidential caucus was marred by an inability to accurately report results in a timely manner. State Democratic Party blamed a third-party smartphone app to delay the caucus release and had to enter the results manually.
The app developers, Shadow Inc., later apologized for the delayclaiming that while the app’s data collection worked as expected, its ability to transmit that information did not.
NPR reported that there was not enough training or research on the app’s capabilities ahead of the caucus. The state also had change in reporting guidelines before caucus, requiring parties to submit roster totals as well as delegate allocations, to increase transparency.
Nevada did not use the app for his caucus later that month.
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