Andrew B. Wilson

Missouri lawmakers are feeling embarrassed. And well they should be. The representatives of the Show-Me State were shown up as knaves (worthy of foolscaps) when they called a statewide election and nobody came.

Or very few did. The state’s 454 polling places were empty for hours at a time as less than 8 percent of the state’s registered voters showed up to vote in the state’s presidential primary elections on Tues., Feb. 7.

In this case, the fault lies not with the voters — for failing to exercise their civic duty — but with the legislators, for refusing to call off a meaningless election.

In going ahead with a “non-binding” election that was empty of any real purpose, Missouri lawmakers on both sides of the aisle knowingly and shamelessly put taxpayers’ money to waste – treating the $7 million cost as a mere trifle.

“In the 10 years I’ve been here, this is the dumbest thing I’ve seen the legislature do,” Missouri Sen. Kevin Engler (R-Dist. 3) told the Show-Me Institute. “We spent $7 million — or just about $25 a vote — in an election in which not even one out every 12 people voted. This is an election that did absolutely nothing — while we as a state are firing hundreds of people in trying to cut a half a billion dollar budget deficit.”

This is how it happened.

Last year, the state Republican Party hoped to steal a march on other states in moving the state’s presidential primary to an early date. It hoped thereby to command greater national attention. But the national party foiled the plan. It passed new rules to punish states trying to hold early primary elections — refusing to recognize the results in seating delegates to the national convention Aug. 27-30 in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Recognizing the problem, the Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature approved a measure last spring that would have reset the primary to a later date and made it binding. On unrelated grounds, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the larger legislation that contained the new primary date. Another effort to reset the primary date failed in a special session last fall.

However, even after the state Republican Party decided to hold a March 17 caucus to determine the state’s delegates to the national convention, some Republicans in the Senate continued to trumpet the people’s “right to vote” in the now devalued primary, even though the practical effect of the vote would be slim-to-zero.

Sen. Engler described the money and effort wasted on the primary as “a bi-partisan failure” which could have been avoided if elected officials of both parties had been less cavalier about wasting taxpayers’ money. He noted that all eight of the Democrats in the Missouri Senate joined Republicans in voting to keep the primary election in February.

I did vote on Feb. 7 — but only out of curiosity. I went to my polling place in Saint Louis’s Central West End at 5 p.m. Only eight other people were there — all of them poll workers. I was the only voter.

This much is certain: An overwhelming majority of Missourians voted with their feet in paying no heed to a meaningless election. And if there is any further lesson to be drawn, it may be this: If the Political Class is so careless in spending millions of dollars of your money, can you trust them in spending billions, or even trillions?

Andrew B. Wilson is a resident fellow and senior writer at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.

About the Author

Andrew Wilson
Fellow and Senior Writer

A former foreign correspondent who spent four years in the Middle East and served as Business Week’s London bureau chief during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms as Britain’s prime minister, Andrew is a regular contributor to leading national publications, including the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal.