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Primary election move expected

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's primary election likely will be a month earlier than normal so military personnel and other Americans overseas have plenty of time to cast their ballots.

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A bill cleared its first legislative hurdle Friday moving the primary to Aug. 10. Without a law change, the primary vote would be Sept. 14.

"There has been an argument over how early it should be," Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said, but a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers hammered out a compromise in recent months.

A new federal law requires states to provide more time for overseas Americans to vote by absentee ballot; if Minnesota lawmakers do not go along, federal officials could penalize the state.

The Minnesota debate was over when a primary should be held. Some wanted it in June, before most Minnesotans take vacation.

"In August, I think, we have Minnesotans being away," Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said.

Some lawmakers who live outside of the Twin Cities complained about a June primary because that would give them too little time to campaign after a late-May legislative adjournment, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said.

Regardless of their individual wishes, however, the bipartisan group of lawmakers agreed that June would be too early this year, but left the door open for future June primaries.

The bill sets an earlier date to file for office, this year May 18 to June 1, and allows primary election absentee voting June 25 to Aug. 9.

The problem with the August date is that fewer people may vote since their attention is elsewhere in the summer.

Some wonder whether that would help incumbents, who usually are better known than challengers.

No, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said. It helps "people whose name ends in 'son,'" he said, referring to Scandinavian names like Johnson.

Another solution some have raised to voting during the summer is to allow early voting for anyone, not just people who seek absentee ballots because they will be out of town on election day.

However, early voting is controversial and would be tough to pass.

"I'm not too hopeful," said Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, who heads an elections committee.

Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, said he cannot support a bill just to make voting easier or save money when it could reduce confidence in the election process.

Sieben said bills flowing from the problem-plagued 2008 U.S. Senate race will be considered, especially one that makes the absentee voting process simpler.

The same panel that passed the election bill, the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee, approved on a split voice vote a bill to ban state officials and some state employees of becoming lobbyists within two years of leaving their jobs.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the bill would apply to five statewide officials, 201 legislators and up to 200 other state workers.

Marty is running for the DFL governor nomination.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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