ST. LOUIS -- 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 eight percent of the state's registered voters showed up to vote in the state's presidential primary elections on Tuesday, 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 Senator Kevin Engler (Rep., district 3) told me. "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 August 27-30 in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Recognizing the problem, the Republican-controlled 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 of the legislature in September and October.
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 peoples "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 continue to have the primary election in February.
On a personal note, I did vote on Feb. 7 -- but only out of curiosity. I went to my polling place in St. Louis's Central West End at 5 p.m. There were eight other people there at the time -- all of them polling workers. I was the only voter.
But even if he didn't win a single delegate, what of the fact that Rick Santorum won what might seem to be a smashing victory in the Missouri primary -- winning 55 percent of the vote? The online Wall Street Journal was sufficiently impressed to write a headline declaring: "Santorum GOP Stunner in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado."
No doubt Santorum did get a little push out of the Missouri election. But 55 percent of little less than eight percent (of registered voters) is just four percent. Moreover, Santorum was the only one of the Republican candidates who bothered to campaign in Missouri. Mitt Romney didn't even pay a visit and Newt Gingrich wasn't on the ballot. According to political analysts at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the anyone-but-Romney Republican candidate who is most likely to come up strong in the Missouri caucus on March 17 is Ron Paul -- owing to the greater energy and support that he will receive from a core group of dedicated supporters in the more intimate (i.e. closed) setting of a caucus campaign.
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?
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