Keeping the caucus? Push to convert Minnesota to primaries cools at Capitol
Published 10:11 am Wednesday, May 4, 2016
By Tim Pugmire
ST. PAUL — It was a hot issue a couple months ago. But with less than three weeks left in the 2016 session, Minnesota lawmakers have yet to pass a bill to establish a statewide presidential primary.
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Supporters of the proposed switch were hoping to strike quickly, while memories of packed March 1 precinct caucuses were still fresh. But a state Senate hearing Tuesday showed many questions remain about how a presidential primary would work.
State Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, told members of the Senate Finance Committee that a new primary would allow more voters to participate in the presidential nomination process, either in-person or by absentee ballot. But Rest noted that the two major parties insisted on a key requirement.
“If you want to participate, you would be asking for a DFL ballot or a Republican ballot, and that information would be public,” she said. “That has been a matter of some concern. But it is indeed a trade-off.”
Another provision in the bill would require presidential primary voters to sign a polling place roster, affirming that they are “in general agreement with the principles of the party” of the candidate they’re voting for.
Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said she thinks it goes too far and Minnesota shouldn’t exclude independent voters from a presidential primary.
“I want to preserve their ability to have just as strong a voice as anybody else in this state, without making a formal commitment to adhering to party principles,” said Bonoff. “I want them to have that freedom.”
Rest said she wrestled with the wording in the provision but reminded Bonoff that the presidential nomination primary would be, by design, a partisan election.
“If I were a committed independent I would say I have no business deciding between candidate A and candidate B for the Republican party or the same for the Democratic party,” she said. “I will make my independence known at the general election.”
Rest said she’s using the phrase “presidential nomination primary” to avoid confusion with the primary election held in August for statewide contests.
Under her bill, major party officials would jointly select the primary date in presidential election years. It would be the first Tuesday in March if they can’t agree. The results would bind the party election of delegates.
Precinct caucuses would still exist, for party-building-purposes. But those caucuses cannot be held on the same date as the presidential primary.
Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he opposes that limitation in the bill. Newman said he also objects to voters being able to select party delegates by absentee ballot.
“I agree with the notion of a presidential primary, giving more people the opportunity to participate,” he said. “I disagree with the notion that we are going to have all manner of voting for delegates, not an official, for delegates, in a partisan election, and allow them to do that without showing up.”
After a lengthy debate, the committee adjourned Tuesday without voting on the bill. Finance committee approval will send the bill to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, are also among its co-authors. The House version of the bill is awaiting its final committee stop.