Primary value

Monday, February 16, 2004

Presidents' Day seems an appropriate time to weigh in on the value of Missouri holding a presidential primary this year.

Printing the ballots, paying the election judges and running public notices in newspapers across the state isn't cheap -- approximately $3.7 million for the election held earlier this month. Several politicians and pundits have weighed in, saying the high cost and paltry voter turnout means that the experiment of a primary isn't worth the cost. The state could save money, absolutely, by returning to a caucus system for picking parties' nominees for the presidency.

Show-Me State voters did show a horendous lack of interest on Feb. 3. When only 15 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, that should be a cause of concern. But what about the candidates themselves? True, Rep. Dick Gephardt dropped out of the contest a couple of weeks prior to so-called Super Tuesday. But the remaining Democrats didn't show that much interest in Missourians during the weeks before the primary, either. Only N.C. Sen. John Edwards even made a visit to a location in the state outside the metropolises of Kansas City and St. Louis. And a scheduled debate in St. Louis on the election eve wasn't important enough to the two favorites for them to clear their slates.

A cost of almost $7 per ballot cast does appear high, but how about the cost per user of other important public services such as public libraries? Are we going to judge police forces, fire departments, county jails and the like on whether they are profitable? I don't think anyone is ready for that.

Before we scrap the presidential primary, let's look at ways to increase participation -- among the candidates as well as the voters.