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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Missouri’s GOP caucuses

Feb 28, 2024, 4:00 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Missouri Republican Party will hold presidential caucuses on Saturday, offering voters their only chance to weigh in on who should represent the party on the November presidential ballot. The contest is one of the last chances for candidates to shape the race for the GOP nomination before Super Tuesday, when 15 states will hold Republican contests on March 5, the most of any day on the primary calendar.

Former President Donald Trump looks to extend his string of primary and caucus victories this year, while Nikki Haley, his former U.N. ambassador, seeks her first win of the campaign. Trump prevailed twice under the state’s old presidential primary system, first in 2016, when he barely edged Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and again in 2020, when he won 97% of the vote as the incumbent.

The caucuses will also start the process of awarding 51 of Missouri’s 54 Republican delegates to the Republican National Convention this summer.

The caucuses were organized after GOP Gov. Mike Parson signed a 2022 law that, among other things, canceled the planned March 12 presidential primary. Lawmakers have failed to reinstate the primary, despite calls to do so by both the state Republican and Democratic party leaders. Democrats will hold a party-run primary on March 23.

A look at what to expect on election night:

CAUCUS DAY

The caucuses are scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. CST, which is 11 a.m. EST.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

It is the only contest being decided that day, aside from administrative posts such as caucus chair and secretary. There is no “ballot” in the traditional sense, as caucus-goers form groups to express their preferences, but the candidates eligible for nomination at the caucuses are Trump, Haley and Florida businessman David Stuckenberg. Texas businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley ended his campaign on Tuesday, and the state party’s practice has been to remove former candidates from the caucus mix.

WHO MAY PARTICIPATE IN THE CAUCUSES

Caucus-goers must be registered to vote in Missouri and sign a pledge declaring their “allegiance to the Missouri Republican Party.” The caucus rules state: “Only strong and faithful Republican voters residing and registered to vote in the district involved shall be allowed to participate in any caucus or Convention.”

For years, Missouri voters did not register by party, but the same 2022 election law that canceled the presidential primary also gave voters the option to “affiliate” with a party through their local county clerk’s office. While the state party does not require caucus-goers to have officially affiliated with the Republican Party through this new process, it has advised county party chairs and caucus staff that voters who chose to affiliate with the Democratic Party may be barred from participating on Saturday.

DELEGATE ALLOCATION RULES

Missouri has 54 Republican delegates. Fifty-one of them are awarded to candidates through a monthslong process that begins Saturday. Eleven delegates will be awarded to candidates at the statewide level, while five delegates will be awarded from each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. That’s a combined total of 51 delegates at stake in what’s known as a “caucus-convention” system. The remaining three delegates are the state party chairman and Missouri’s Republican national committeeman and committeewoman, who may support any candidate they wish regardless of caucus results.

Caucus-goers will express their preferences for president, and those results ultimately are used to determine the number of delegates awarded to candidates both at the statewide and congressional district level. At both the statewide and district levels, all delegates at stake are awarded to the candidate who receives majority support. If no candidate receives a majority, delegates are allocated proportionally among candidates who received at least 15% of support, with some minor exceptions.

The individuals who will serve as national convention delegates will be selected at congressional district conventions on April 6 and the state convention on May 4.

DECISION NOTES

Missouri’s GOP caucuses vaguely resemble the format Iowa Democrats used for decades before scrapping it for this year in favor of a vote-by-mail primary.

Unlike state-run primaries, participants must attend in person during a limited time frame and participate in a party meeting, rather than being able to just cast a ballot and leave. Voting is not done by secret ballot. Caucus-goers instead move around the room and form groups in support of their preferred presidential candidate.

Any candidate group that comprises less than 15% of the total attendance of that caucus in the first round of voting must disband, and its members have the option of joining another candidate group. The number of people in the newly formed candidate groups is then used to determine how many representatives each campaign will send to district-level conventions in April as well as to the state convention in May. Delegates to those spring conventions will formally allocate national convention delegates to the presidential candidates.

If a candidate has the support of more than 50% of the total attendance in a caucus site, the candidate wins all the district and state convention delegates at stake in that caucus. If a candidate wins the caucus with less than 50%, proportionality rules are applied, depending on the number of delegates at stake.

The Associated Press will report a statewide winner based on the preferences of caucus participants. The vote results will not reflect the raw votes of all caucus-goers. Instead, the vote will be expressed in terms of how many of the 924 state delegates each candidate has won, as well as the number of district delegates each candidate has won across eight congressional districts.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE

The last time Missouri Republicans held caucuses to allocate delegates in a contested presidential campaign was in 2012, but the format was different and there was no binding presidential preference result to provide a meaningful turnout comparison for this year.

Early and absentee voting is not permitted at the caucuses. Caucus-goers must participate in-person at the caucus site.

As of November 2022, there were about 4.3 million voters registered in Missouri.

HOW LONG WILL VOTE-COUNTING TAKE?

The caucuses convene without a hard stop time. Chairs of individual caucus sites must report their results to the state party no later than 5 p.m. CST (6p EST). The state party has not provided a more detailed vote-counting timeline beyond those broad parameters.

Given the number of items on the agenda, the length of time allotted to forming and reforming preference groups and the possibility of delays as caucus staff and participants adjust to an unfamiliar system, it may take even the most efficiently run caucus at least one to two hours to conduct all of its business. In Iowa, caucuses in some precincts have lasted up to three hours.

The AP will begin reporting results as soon as they are available.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Saturday, there will be 135 days until the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee and 248 days until the November general election.

___

Associated Press writer David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Missouri’s GOP caucuses