I am still getting a few calls expressing frustration with the presidential primary. The concern is mostly around having to declare party preference. And questioning why the ballots are different than the usual primary ballots we have used for years. I sent out an update on this subject at the end of January, but here is a brief explanation:
The March primary which just took place was only for the presidential election. It was established, at the request of the Minnesotans who were concerned our primaries took place after other states had theirs. It replaced the what we used to call the presidential straw polls we held at the precinct caucuses. There was care taken by both parties to protect against members of one party from influencing the other parties primary process. Unlike our regular August primary, this one is non-binding. It is for the purposes of assigning delegates to the conventions. Just like the caucuses, you were required to identify a party preference to vote.
Our regular primary will still be in August. If either party still has more than one candidate running for any Minnesota office or president, You will for by secret ballot as in the past.
For more background from the email I sent in January, the presidential primary itself came about as a reaction to the 2016 presidential caucuses, which were perceived as chaotic by attendees from both major parties. There was frustration among many that Minnesota relied on the caucus meeting model and didn’t offer the same style of presidential primary that other states have. A major public benefit that was expressed at the time was that a primary election gave people an opportunity to participate by simply voting, rather than having to attend a (long, chaotic) meeting.
The history of party preference reporting within the primary system in Minnesota is an interesting one. Despite the public uproar in reaction to the 2016 caucuses, both major parties still preferred the caucus system. One reason for this preference was because it allowed parties to ensure and verify that those who voted in their respective caucuses were likely members of/sympathetic to their respective party (or rather, it at least minimized the risk of “sabotage” voting).
Now, establishing and conducting a primary required buy-in from party leadership in order to ensure that the party would abide by the results at their nominating convention – otherwise the whole system collapses. So, in developing the rules for the new presidential primary, keeping a record of voter party choices was a request of both the DFL and GOP. Again, this was an attempt to minimize crossover voting, but of course, also has obvious voter identification benefits for both parties as well. The 2017 bill instituting the presidential primary received bipartisan support and was signed by Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton and passed by a Republican Legislature.
Until last session, data on voter party choices was to be made available to the entire public. In ’19 however, the availability of the list was restricted to the major parties alone.
If you are interested in more details regarding the presidential primary, House Research put together a publication on the primary process, which can be found here. Pages 3 to 6 (Disclosure of a Voter’s Party Choice) most closely address party preference data.