ST. LOUIS — Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft recently told House Budget Committee members he wants to do away with Missouri's Presidential Preference Primary to save taxpayer money, a move strongly opposed by the state's Democrats.

"Eliminating the primary would be a huge step backward and greatly diminish the influence of voters," said Lauren Gepford, Executive Director of the Missouri Democratic Party.

Gepford said a return to time-consuming caucuses — like the one in Iowa where residents spend hours debating and counting supporters through multiple rounds — would drive down voter turnout. 

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And Gepford pointed to numbers from the last presidential election cycle.

She said 39% of Missouri's registered voters turned out for the primary in 2016, compared to only 16% of registered voters in Iowa's famed caucus.

But Ashcroft said eliminating the primary would save taxpayers $9.1 million, plus interest, every four years because the state political parties would have to pick up the tab for a caucus.

"This could take away valuable funds that we currently use to support candidates," Gepford said. "We do have quite a bit of money that we have to spend on the entire presidential process."

5 On Your Side political expert Anita Manion said Ashcroft's plan also runs contrary to national trends towards the more modern primary process.

"States are moving more and more away from caucuses, not towards caucuses," Manion said. "We do want to be budget-conscious. We don't want to be redundant either. But I do think about investing money in our democracy and in our election process is a worthwhile investment."

Gepford said the state's political parties do use a caucus process to select who they send to the national convention. She said the Missouri Democratic Party delegates, however, must choose the candidate the voters selected during the primary.

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