In changing from a caucus nominating system to a Super Tuesday primary election, Minnesota became a surprising presidential primary player in just one night.
More importantly, everyday voters had the chance to select their preferred candidate in both major political parties, something they have not been able to do since 1992.
We believe this is a good change.
So did Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.
“Results are still unofficial, but my office is reporting over 885,000 primary voters, or statewide turnout of 21.7%,” Simon said in a March 4 news release. “That 885,000 represents a 177% increase compared to participants in the 2016 caucuses.”
In Becker County, turnout was a respectable 18%. We’d call that number a success, considering the new primary system and the relative simplicity of the ballots. Getting voters to come out for primaries is difficult enough, but this primary had just one contest, and one of those ballots included only one name (Republican President Donald J. Trump is running for reelection). And U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who likely would have drawn significant support in her home state of Minnesota, dropped out of the presidential race the day before the primary, likely discouraging some voters to bother to show up.
In 2016, the last year the parties picked their nominees via “straw polls” at party caucuses, residents complained of chaotic and confusing meetings. The process, by its very nature, allowed for only a small handful of party faithful to make the decision for everyone.
Lawmakers decided to make the switch after hearing complaints of overcrowding and long lines at caucuses. Then-Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill in May 2016 to allow for the primary system, rather than the caucuses.
This means that Minnesota residents, like voters in other states, are now able to simply vote for their preferred candidate.
The statewide turnout shows that, when given the chance to participate, Minnesotans will come to the polls.
One element of concern of the new primary is that voters had to declare their party to get a ballot, and that information is available to the public. Who they voted for remains private, however.
We understand the frustration that some voters may have with the required declaration of party to receive the proper ballot. For many -- from public employees to clergy to teachers to, yes, journalists -- revealing that information can open one up to accusations of bias or favoritism. It can affect business or relationships.
That exposure of party preference should be corrected before the next presidential primary in 2024. It is not a requirement during the regular Minnesota state primaries, and shouldn’t be in the presidential primary, either.
And the timing of the state primary is the other element that needs to be corrected.
Voting is confusing and difficult enough to do once a year. Now, Minnesota is asking residents to vote in two different primaries, plus one general election. Sure, this will only come up once every four years, but it is reasonable to expect that those primaries can be synchronized, like so many other states.
The disaster that was the 2020 Democratic Iowa caucuses, plus the response to Minnesota’s participation in Super Tuesday, give us enough evidence to say this is a change for the better.