New Procedures for 2020 Presidential Primary in Minnesota: Big Surprises for Some

Next year Minnesota residents will be voting in the Presidential Primary to select the political party’s nomination for president of the United States for the next four years. In previous years Minnesotans met in school classrooms to caucus and select the presidential candidate they supported. However, the 2016 legislature changed the Presidential Primary voting process for 2020.

 Why the change? Caucuses require voters to show up at a specific time and place, making access difficult for students away at college, people in the military, those with disabilities, and workers.  Caucuses require hours of organization and many volunteers to train, educate, and implement. Parking issues, long lines, confusion over the process have all been criticisms hurled at the caucus process in recent years. Cost is also an issue. State parties pay the costs associated with a caucus, such as renting venues and paperwork. Holding a primary shifts those expenses to the state, which pays for elections. Offering a primary rather than a caucus gives more power to citizens in selecting a candidate for the party’s nomination because each person is allowed a secret ballot.

For the record, the Minnesota legislature has required a presidential nomination primary three other times, in 1916, in 1952 and 1956, and in 1992. Only to repeal the law thereafter and return to the caucus.

Only presidential candidates will be voted on in this primary. Precinct caucuses and nominating conventions will still take place to conduct other party business. In August all other offices with a primary will be on the ballots.

Under the new law registered voters will cast a ballot at their polling place on March 3 or by absentee ballot starting 46 days before the election (January 16).  Absentee voters will have until seven days before the primary election (February 24) to change their choice of party and submit a different ballot.

Voters must state which major party ballot they want: Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or Republican Party. Currently Minnesota has two other major parties, and if they submit candidates for president, ballots will be offered for those parties as well. They currently include: Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis and Legal Marijuana Now Party. Minor parties will not be represented in this primary.

Voters will be asked to sign this statement: “I am in general agreement with the principles of the party for whose candidate I intend to vote, and I understand that my choice of a party’s ballot will be public information.” A voter who refuses to select a party or sign the statement will not be allowed to vote in the primary.

A voter’s choice of party ballot will be recorded and will be public information; how the person voted on the ballot will not be shared. County auditors will include the information about a voter’s party choice in the statewide voter registration system, a public record which can be used by the political parties and others.

The presidential primary results will bind the election of delegates in each party to that person at their conventions. It is law in Minnesota.