A bill that would force Missouri voters to register with a particular political party ahead of primary elections won very slim approval in the House of Representatives last week, but may not have the traction to make it to the Senate.
Although the bill has not been perfected for passage, it gained slim approval by a vote of 78 to 72 after party leadership made the rounds in the House to garner enough votes to keep the bill alive.
The legislation would mean only registered Republicans could vote in the Republican primary and likewise for Democrats, leaving members of any other political party or those unaffiliated with any party out in the cold.
Instead, any not registered Republican or Democrat would not be allowed to vote for candidates on the ballot but ballot issues only.
The Missourian has learned the Missouri GOP is pushing the bill, but Republican representatives from Franklin County oppose the closed primary idea and voted against the measure last week.
State Rep. Nate Tate, St. Clair, says he wanted to toe the party line, but the more he looked at the bill he realized it just wasn’t for him.
“I was a pretty hard ‘No’,” Tate said. “This would basically shut out a section of voters simply because they aren’t a Republican or Democrat.”
Tate added in essence the bill would be taking away the rights of many Missouri voters to vote for whomever they choose no matter which party they are affiliated with.
The issue especially hits home with Tate since he was first elected in a three-way Republican primary in August 2016.
“If it wasn’t for open primaries, I may not even be here,” he said. “I know for a fact there were people from the opposite party who crossed over to vote for me.”
Tate added many of those Democratic votes came because he opposed Right to Work.
“I don’t know why the state party is pushing this so hard when we already have a super majority,” Tate said. “I really don’t see this bill coming up for a vote again.”
State Rep. John Simmons, R-Krakow, voted in favor of closed primaries and says it ensures party solidarity, message and that the strongest candidate is pushed forward.
“In a primary, especially the presidential preference, you are choosing the standard-bearer of your party,” Simmons said. “Voting for another party doesn’t make sense to me.”
Simmons added closing the primaries strengthens the party platform and what you and others who support it stand for.
When asked if voters wanted to support candidates in parties other than the one they may be registered in, Simmons said their primary votes should always be with their party.
“There may be other ways you can support a candidate,” Simmons said. “You could put a sign in your yard and do other things, but you can’t vote for them.”
State Rep. Aaron Griesheimer sides with Tate and voted against the preliminary measure.
“I think it’s wrong for people to have to pick a side,” Griesheimer said. “It’s wrong to take away anyone’s right to vote based on their party.”
He said he understands the reasoning behind the GOP push for the closed primaries but overall thinks the idea is a bad one.
“Right now, members of any party can cross lines and vote for whomever they want,” he explained. “Sometimes this leads to members of both parties purposely voting for weaker candidates to make general elections more one-sided.”
Griesheimer said the affirmative vote last week was only the result of pushes by House leadership and it still was barely able to squeak by with six votes.
To gain full passage, the bill would have to get 82 votes next time.
“I think it’s dead,” Griesheimer said.