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Minnesota eyes presidential primary election

ST. PAUL -- Long lines and angry Minnesotans trying to attend March 1 precinct caucuses may lead to the state adopting a presidential primary election."I don't think anybody really saw that coming," Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, said Wednesday abou...

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon voices support of a presidential primary during a Wednesday legislative committee hearing. (Don Davis/Forum News Service)

ST. PAUL - Long lines and angry Minnesotans trying to attend March 1 precinct caucuses may lead to the state adopting a presidential primary election.
“I don’t think anybody really saw that coming,” Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, said Wednesday about the packed caucuses. “What we ran into is we were not adequately prepared.”
Stories have surfaced about people who wanted to vote for Democratic or Republican presidential candidates being forced to park a mile away from caucus sites, or being stuck in traffic jams that kept them from even arriving at their caucuses. In some cases, would-be voters arrived, only to be told voting was over.
On Wednesday, Sanders’ House Government and Elections Policy Committee heard that some Minnesotans, especially those new to the state, tried to cast ballots in election polling places, not realizing the state holds caucuses, not a primary.
Cramming a day’s worth of voting into about an hour proved impossible in many areas as 300,000 Minnesotans turned out for the volunteer-run caucuses.
Shortly after caucuses ended, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, tweeted that he would push for a presidential primary, and Sanders credited him with starting the momentum.
Sanders’ bill would establish a state-run primary only for picking presidential candidates, while other caucus functions such as electing local party leaders would be held on another day.
No vote was taken on the bill, but Sanders expects one to come Tuesday. He said that will coordinate with senators so there is agreement before the initial committee vote.
While lawmakers had specific questions about the legislation, no committee member expressed outright opposition.
Sanders said the biggest controversy will be whether a voter would have to declare what party he and she supports in able to get a ballot. A primary is, he said, part of a party presidential nominating process.
Parties say they want to know who voted in which party’s primary.
That “makes me cringe,” Rep. Carolyn Laine, D-Columbia Heights, said.
Several representatives said they support Minnesota’s long history of keeping private what primary ballot a voter uses.
“I think they want to have the privacy of their vote protected,” Laine said.
Sanders said that overall, however, there is broad agreement.
“When choosing the president of the United States, people want to have a say,” he said. “They want Minnesota to matter.”
Legislators and Secretary of State Steve Simon warned that local governments will be concerned about the cost of holding another election. The cost is why Minnesota seldom has held presidential primaries, the latest of which was in 1992.
Simon said that his office estimates that holding a primary would cost $4 million to $6 million, not much different than elections with longer ballots. He said that he hopes the state can pay for all or most of the cost.

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