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Minnesota Opinion: Seize chances to caucus, vote in primary

Summary: Caucus night 2020, which is Tuesday, promises to be a far different, far more accessible opportunity with an almost certainty that anyone who wants to participate will be able to this time. That’s because, for just the fifth time in state history, Minnesota will host a presidential primary in addition to the parties’ caucuses.

Minnesota Opinion editorial
Minnesota Opinion editorials
West Central Tribune graphic

This won’t be like 2016. Those crowds. That chaos. The hordes of politically minded caucus-goers overwhelming schools, classrooms, other public meeting locations, and volunteers — all across Minnesota.

On caucus night four Februaries ago, ballots ran out, and makeshift voting cards had to be handmade. Emotions roiled, and more than a few DFLers and Republicans went home frustrated, unable to find a place to park or a way to get inside before the caucusing ended.

Caucus night 2020, which is Tuesday, promises to be a far different, far more accessible opportunity with an almost certainty that anyone who wants to participate will be able to this time. That’s because, for just the fifth time in state history, Minnesota will host a presidential primary in addition to the parties’ caucuses.

Minnesota’s primary — like a traditional election at which party participants posit their presidential preferences for this fall’s election — is in a little over a week, on Super Tuesday, March 3.

The caucuses that still will be held this Tuesday will be used for everything else: taking care of selecting delegates for party conventions, determining candidate preferences in races other than the president, debating party-platform priorities, and conducting other party business.

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“Having a primary, too, will have an impact on caucus turnout, but we absolutely encourage everyone to participate in both,” Republican Party of Minnesota Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said. “Caucus is a place where people can come and interact in a face-to-face manner with people in their local precincts and areas and learn more about getting involved in the party in different ways, whether it’s as a volunteer or becoming a new activist or signing up to be a poll-watcher or election judge. It’s a place where we can really sort of build our grassroots and widen the base and the intent of our party."

Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin is certain about the value of Minnesota’s switch this go-round.

“It’s certainly going to be better for Minnesotans (without) the swarm of people who come out just for (the presidential-preference balloting),” Martin said.. “For those folks who worked in the evenings, for those folks who had transportation issues, those folks who for a whole host of reasons couldn’t participate during that time, they were essentially disenfranchised. … And the whole purpose of the presidential primary is to actually expand the opportunity for people to participate, make it more accessible, make it more convenient for people to vote. … Given the stakes of this presidential contest, (we want to) give as many people who want to participate in this process the chance to do so.”

A primary in addition to caucusing isn’t without its drawbacks, of course. The primary may feel like an election, allow Minnesota to be a player on the Super Tuesday national stage, and “give a lot more people the chance to participate,” as Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said. “But one disadvantrage is there’s no meaningful absentee provision. So if you’re in the military or you’ve got a sick kid or you’re sick or you're working a night shift or whatever, and you can’t go out on a winter night at 7 p.m. to the junior high, you’re really just out of luck.”

Also, despite proposed fixes and pressure to act swiftly, the Minnesota Legislature still hasn't finalized legislation to address legitimate privacy concerns related to the primary. To get their ballots, voters need to declare a party affiliation, and when they do their names will go on lists of each of the parties’ participants. Those lists will then go to each of the state's major parties, namely the Minnesota DFL, Minnesota GOP, Legal Marijuana Now, and Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis. The chances of those voter lists being leaked and made public? Or of someone overhearing a voter's party declaration when requesting a ballot? Good enough for would-be participants to already be declaring they’ll sit out rather than risk their political anonymity.

And that’s the opposite of the aim behind holding a primary in addition to caucusing. The goal was to encourage and allow more voting-eligible Minnesotans to take part — by avoiding the chaos and hordes and roiled emotions of 2016.

The effectiveness and quality of our representative government depend on our participation and voting. Lawmakers can still take action to ensure privacy, though time is quickly running out. And Minnesotans can make their plans to seize the chances — two of them this year instead of just one — to fulfill their civic duty and responsibility to their communities and neighbors. To make their voices heard.

This editorial is the opinion of the Duluth News-Tribune's editorial board.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2020
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