For most of its existence, when it has come to
nominating candidates for President of the United States, Minnesota has used
the caucus system – a meeting of like-minded citizens that select delegates for
their political party of choice.
However, on March 3, known as Super Tuesday in
political circles, Minnesota will select its presidential delegates by going to
the polls for a Presidential Nomination Primary. It’s only the fifth time
Minnesota has used a primary to determine delegates – the other four being
1916, 1952, 1956 and 1992.
One of the main differences between the primary and
caucus systems is that primary elections are run by the state, while caucuses
are run by the political parties themselves. With the switchover to the
primary, voters who have participated in elections will find a significant
difference in one key respect – they will have to tell the election judge what
party they are voting for.
“One thing that will be different with this election
is that voters will be required to declare a major party,” Wright County
Election Supervisor Corissa Aronson said. “There are four major parties in
Minnesota in this election cycle. Only two submitted candidates to be on ballots
for this election, so voters will have to select either Republican or
The other two parties – Legalize Cannabis Party and
Legalize Marijuana Now Party – didn’t certify to the Minnesota Secretary of
State’s office a list of candidates for the primary election.
In the coming weeks, Aronson and Wright County
Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala will be trying to get word out to voters about
this unique situation of declaring a party affiliation. As part of the voting
process, the names and addresses of those who vote Democrat or Republican will
have that information shared with the state chair of all four major political
The issue is two-fold. First, some believe that data
collection as a “Tennessen Warning” – a potential violation of the Minnesota
Data Practices Act, which limits what information government can obtain, use or
share about an individual’s private information. Second, many voters may show
up to the polls unaware of the requirement and not be willing to divulge what
party they intend to vote for. For that reason, posters will be set up at the polling
places the explain the procedure.
One of the questions that many involved in the primary
election throughout the state are wondering is how many people will actually
turn out to vote? While voting in the November elections is routinely at or
above 70 percent in presidential election years (Wright County is consistently
higher than the state average), turnout at the 2016 caucuses in Minnesota was
approximately 8 percent.
Since there hasn’t been a primary in Minnesota during
the lifetime of voters born after 1975, there isn’t any hard data to base estimates
on as to what to the voter turnout will be.
“We have no idea at this point how many people are
going to turn out,” Aronson said. “The last election held similar to this was
in 1992 and the turnout was about 10 percent. We don’t know if we will see
similar numbers this time or not. It’s difficult to project something that
hasn’t been done for 28 years.”
What has added to some confusion about the switch from
a caucus to a primary is that, on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 25, Minnesota
will conduct precinct caucuses. However, while the caucus and local and state
nominating conventions will still take place, they won’t be the determining
factor in the presidential nomination/delegate count process.
“That part has changed,” Aronson said. “Now the major
parties are bound by statute to go with the results of this (Presidential
Nomination Primary) election. They will be conducting other business and voting
on other items at the caucus, but in this election, the statute has built into
it that they’re bound by the voters’ decisions for determining delegates.”
Both Hiivala and Aronson have some concerns that the
election judges will deal with the frustration of voters who are unaware of the
change requiring a party declaration, but added there is little that any of
them, including election judges, can do about the new set of rules.
“It’s simple and it’s not,” Aronson said. “Voters will
have to declare their ballots Republican or Democrat – those are the only
options. They will have to do so to get the ballot. That’s the simple part. The
part that isn’t simple comes in if they’re confused or frustrated. The election
judges are going to hear that. Ultimately, those individuals who do not declare
a party, will not be able to vote and will be turned away.”
Although the party declaration needs to be made,
measures will be taken so voters don’t have to announce their selection. They
can check the appropriate box on the roster to receive the corresponding
ballot. Other voters will not be able to see which party ballot that another
voter is receiving.
“We will be doing everything we can to maintain voter
privacy at the polling place,” Aronson said.
Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Primary
Day. Those interested in early/absentee voting can cast their ballots any time
between now and March 2. They can vote at the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office on the
second floor of the Wright County Government Center in Buffalo weekdays between
8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The office will have expanded hours in the days leading up
to the election – from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, as well as
remaining open until 5 p.m. Monday, March 2. Six cities – Albertville, Buffalo,
Delano, Hanover, Monticello and St. Michael – will also accept early/absentee
ballots at their respective city halls. However, to vote at any of those
locations, a voter must be a resident of the city where they will be filling
out a ballot.