The Missouri Secretary of State wanted to meet with the top election officials in Christian County.
Jay Ashcroft did that and then some on a stop at the Christian County Historic Courthouse July 9. Ashcroft stopped in Ozark to talk about elections and voting. At what was his fifth clerk’s office visit of the day, he met with Christian County Clerk Kay Brown and her staff to discuss the process of running elections.
Initiative petitions and the practice of Missouri holding presidential preference primary elections were tops on his list.
“How many petitions have we gotten so far?” Brown asked.
“I believe we’ve had right about 100 of them,” Ashcroft responded. “We’ve had three referendums that have been filed, and that’s ongoing.”
An initiative petition for statutory change to Missouri law requires signatures from 5 percent of the registered voters in any six of Missouri’s eight congressional district. A proposed constitutional amendment requires 8 percent. For the Seventh District, which is where Christian County lies, that means 17,159 signatures for a statutory change and 27,454 signatures for a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution.
Those signatures are then checked by county. In Christian County, that means extra work for a staff of five—soon to be four—deputy clerks.
“It took all of our staff working diligently, in addition to everything else we have to do,” Brown said of the last petition review process. “We haven’t been able to hire temps because we don’t have the money.”
Brown’s staff is actually being downsized. One employee is being moved to another position in the Christian County government, but that employee will not work as an election assistant or handle parts of the petition verification process.
In a separate matter, Ashcroft is lobbying state lawmakers, and anyone else who will listen, to do away with presidential primaries being decided by elections in Missouri. His attempt, however, faces steep opposition.
“I’m trying to get rid of the presidential preference primary,” Ashcroft said.
“Do you really think it can happen?” Brown responded.
“I don’t think it will. I think it’s going to be very difficult. When the average person hears that, they say, ‘Wait a minute. Why won’t you let me vote?’” Ashcroft said. “The difficulty is how do we explain to people the truth—because it is the truth. A presidential preference primary vote is meaningless. We are just wasting $7 to $10 million.”
Ashcroft pointed to two different examples of cases in which a candidate won Missouri’s primary election, but did not win the corresponding delegate votes at their party’s national convention. In 1988, Dick Gephardt won the Missouri Democratic Primary in his home state, but received two votes at the Democratic National Convention.
In 2012, Rick Santorum won the Missouri Republican Primary, but Missouri delegates ultimately backed Mitt Romney at the national convention. Both Gephardt and Santorum had withdrawn their candidacy after winning the Missouri primaries, but prior to their national conventions.
“We shouldn’t be hosting dog and pony shows,” Ashcroft said.
Political parties have another method they can use that is cheaper than an election, according to Ashcroft.
“We also have a caucus. The caucus is what really chooses the people that will decide who the nominee is,” Ashcroft said. “Right now, the state is planning to spend $7 to $10 million on a presidential preference primary that won’t actually choose the nominee.”
Brown said that most county clerks would prefer to have a caucus.
“That’s because you don’t have to run the caucus,” Ashcroft joked.