News Flash

Wright County News

Posted on: January 21, 2020

County Election Officials Preparing for March 3 Presidential Nomination Primary

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 Democrat.”

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 parties.

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.

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