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Letter: A primer on Minnesota's primary

By Debra Hogenson, Waseca (formerly of Brewster)

The past two years demonstrated the importance of civic engagement. Elections have consequences; some we appreciate and some we abhor. It is clear that voting is important. Next month we have an election many people do not understand or know about, Minnesota’s Aug. 14 primary.

The purpose of a primary is to “endorse,” which means to pick candidates from each political party to be on the November general election ballot. Minnesota has a unique process for selecting party candidates. Some states use a caucus system exclusively and some use primaries exclusively. Minnesota blends them. Good arguments can be made for primaries and caucuses, and excellent arguments against them. I like Minnesota’s mix. Party activists (some call them insiders — disclaimer, I am a Democratic insider) chose party candidates at conventions made up of elected delegates. But the group of convention delegates is a slender slice of an only slightly larger slice of party activists who are themselves a small slice of people who consider themselves members of the party’s base. This problem is addressed by balancing the caucus/convention system with a primary where a large number can participate in the endorsing process for their party.  

Primaries were an early 20th century political reform meant to let the people decide on party endorsements versus what was once described as “party bosses in smoke-filled rooms.” On the other hand, each political party should have a say in who is chosen to represent their agenda and values in a general election. Minnesota’s mixed system, while not perfect, and certainly in need of some reforms, is on the whole a good mix.  

In Minnesota, anyone eligible to vote can help choose who will be on the November general election ballot. Minnesota does not have party registration. When voters go the polls for the primary, the election judge does not check their party affiliation or ask which party they are voting for. That is something the voter decides — privately. When voting in the primary, your first step is to decide which party you most agree with. This ought not to be a quick decision; it should involve careful thought and a bit of research. You will be voting as Republican or as a Democratic-Farmer-Laborer (DFL). After all, you are choosing who will represent your (possessive tense) political party.  

When you receive your primary ballot, you will note it has two columns. Interestingly, the left side of the ballot is the Republican and the right side is the DFL. The names of the candidates for party endorsement for each office are printed in boxes, with the office title at the top of the box. For example, under U.S. Representative for District 1, two names appear in the box on the DFL side of the ballot, and four names are listed on the Republican side. And here is the most important rule: you can only vote between candidates on the DFL side or the Republican side of the ballot — all the way down the ballot. You can’t vote for a Republican in one race and a DFL candidate in another. If you do, your ballot will be spoiled and will not be counted. This, of course makes sense, since you are voting as a Democrat (DFL) or as a Republican. Only in the general election you can “split your ticket” — that is, vote for the DFLer of your choosing for one office and a Republican for another.

There are many candidates for each office within both parties. I strongly recommend you vote. To make it easier for you Minnesota has several ways to do this, one of which is “early voting in person.” You can go to your county auditor’s office any weekday during business hours before Aug. 14, obtain a ballot and vote. You can also vote from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11. I will vote for Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan for Governor and Lt. Governor. But, whoever you choose to vote for, and however you choose to vote — do it.  Elections count, and your vote matters.