Presidential primary returns to Minnesota on March 3
League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area and Hubbard County Auditor Kay Rave share important information about how this new system will work.
For the first time in 28 years, Minnesota is holding a presidential primary election.
In 2016, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill reinstating a presidential primary. Early voting began Jan. 17 and continues until March 3.
League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area (LWV) shared the nuts and bolts of this new system at a Jan. 23 presentation, and Hubbard County Auditor Kay Rave answered audience questions.
LWV member Carolynne White described this presidential primary as “not an election, but election-ish.” It’s part of the political party process, but it’s not a traditional election, she said.
“It informs the political parties what your preference is, so when they go to the convention they know who the people in the state of Minnesota are supporting,” White said. “It’s like you’re making a recommendation to your political party.”
A presidential primary has been held four times in Minnesota’s history: 1916, 1952, 1956 and 1992. The state normally holds caucuses instead.
Caucuses are meetings run by political parties, held on one night, where each party may endorse a candidate, select delegates and set party goals and platforms.
Interest in the 2016 election was so great that voters flooded precinct caucuses, White explained, with lines so long that not everyone could cast a vote by the 8 p.m. deadline. Others couldn’t attend the caucus because of rotten weather, working nights or other difficulties. For these reasons, the Legislature switched to the presidential primary nomination by ballot.
Political parties hope to grow as a result “because more people will be able to participate in a presidential primary than could actually get to the caucus because it was one night, one time,” White explained.
Precinct caucuses and local and state nominating conventions will still take place in 2020, but only to conduct other party business. They will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Caucus locations will be posted at mnvotes.org.
Most states hold a presidential nomination primary on March 3, or “Super Tuesday.”
How it works
Registered voters may vote at their polling place on March 3 or by absentee ballot.
A voter must request the ballot of the party of their choice. The GOP and DFL each have a separate ballot. If a voter refuses to select a party, they will not be able to vote in the presidential nomination primary.
Election officials do not make your party preference public. However, the law requires the Minnesota Secretary of State to share your party preference with the chairs of all four major political parties. Rave said the parties will get your name, address and birth year.
How a voter voted on the ballot will be secret.
If concerned about voter data privacy, the LWV of Minnesota encourages voters to contact their state legislators.
Voters also sign a statement that they are in general agreement with the principles of the party for whose candidate they intend to vote.
Many voters have contacted LWV of Minnesota with concerns that some voters may participate in a party’s primary without actually agreeing with the principles of the party. If a voter encounters one of these individuals, the LWV recommends reporting it directly to the major party and state legislators.
The presidential primary results must bind the election of delegates in each party.
Rave said her department is already mailing absentee ballots to those who specified which one they want.
The best way to request an absentee ballot, she said, is online at mnvotes.org, in person at the county auditor’s office or by calling 732-3196.
There are approximately 13,300 registered voters in Hubbard County, she noted, and 10 precincts – Akeley, Arago, Clay, Hendrickson, Lake Alice, City of Laporte, Schoolcraft, Steamboat River, Thorpe and White Oak townships – are mail-in only ballots.
Some townships have difficulty finding election judges, Rave noted, so they switch to mail-in ballots.
LWV member Flo Hedeen encourages everyone to become an election judge. It’s a paid position and training is provided. “I think it’s a really important civic service to offer. It’s something we ought to own. We are making very critical decisions as we cast our ballot,” she said.
Hubbard County is also hiring three to four temporary staff during the elections. “We need help,” Rave said.
When asked how party preference will be handled in the mail-only precincts, Rave explained,
“We’re going to send you both ballots. You’re going to send one back.”
She emphasized that if two ballots are returned, even if one is unmarked, the ballot will be spoiled.
“Somebody has to witness your signature, so it’s so important that you read the instructions and do it right because we’ll reject it if it’s not perfect,” Rave said. The witness can be either a registered Minnesota voter or a notary.
Prepaid envelopes are included with the ballot.
“The whole philosophy of running an election is not to make it hard for the voter to vote. We’re supposed to make it easy. I can’t think of an easier way than to vote at your kitchen counter,” Rave said. “You can look at what the candidates stand for and decide in the comfort of your own home.”
Voters can still register to vote at their polling place on March 3. Rave recommended registering earlier.
She applauded Hubbard County for its voter turnout, which is roughly 70 to 80 percent.
“The stats I’m not able to capture is the number of people that come in and turn around and leave because they won’t specify a party. That’s the information I’d really like to know, and I think that’s important for the state to know,” Rave said.