DALLAS, March 18 (UPI) -- Colorado has already scrapped its presidential preference primary and at least five other states are considering the same move to save money in hard times.
Although it's not a huge savings and the loss of the primaries won't impact the outcome of next year's presidential race, it's more evidence that very little escapes scrutiny as states face revenue shortfalls of more than $70 billion in fiscal 2004.
Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Missouri and Utah all have legislation pending that would eliminate their primaries, mainly for budgetary reasons, says Tim Storey, an elections specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.
Colorado is saving about $2 million by not having to set up the primary election apparatus in fiscal 2004, and Storey says the savings range from a half-million dollars to several million in the other states weighing the budget-cutting action.
Although politics may play a role in the moves, Storey doesn't think it's a major factor.
"Anytime you are changing the election calendar or the administrative rules or process you have to look at the political consequences of those kinds of things so I'm never surprised, but I haven't heard of any political motivation," he said. "The bill passed in Colorado had strong, bipartisan support."
Colorado is facing a near $400 million budget shortfall in the fiscal 2004 and Republican Gov. Bill Owens has already signed budget cuts and money transfers totaling $750 million in order to balance this fiscal year's $13.8 billion budget.
Colorado's primary was abandoned in part because it never attracted the national attention expected when it was created about a decade ago.
"When we put that in place, there was a hope that we would get all the Western states to join together for a super primary here in the West so we would have a voice in the presidential selection, but it never materialized," said state Sen. Ron Teck, R-Grand Junction.
The legislatures considering dropping the primaries are all Republican-controlled except Maine, but Storey doesn't believe that's a major factor. President George W. Bush is not expected to have any opposition in 2004, but there's a growing field of Democrats running for their party's presidential nomination next year.
Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said there are no more than six or eight state primaries that have major influence on the outcome of a presidential race.
"States that can't see themselves as getting into a position to affect the outcome are saying we'll just save ourselves some money and find a calmer way to register our opinions in the presidential process and pick our delegates to the convention," he said.
The alternatives are a caucus or convention system, which is much cheaper for a state than setting up an election apparatus for a primary. Party activists go to caucuses in homes, basements, garages and eventually pick their delegates in conventions.