Minnesota presidential primary gains momentum

Packed precinct caucuses, and reports that thousands left in frustration due to overcrowding, are leading more Minnesota political leaders to push a presidential primary election.

Packed precinct caucuses, and reports that thousands left in frustration due to overcrowding, are leading more Minnesota political leaders to push a presidential primary election.

The latest is Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, who on Friday said he would support a modified primary system, connected to the state's traditional caucuses. Republican state Chairman Keith Downey said he is open to looking at change.

"Even though there was a tremendous turnout at the precinct caucuses for both parties on Super Tuesday, it has become clear to me that the process by which we do our presidential nominating here in Minnesota needs to be reformed," Martin said, reversing earlier comments that he would prefer to retain the caucus system.

More than 207,000 Democrats and 114,000 Republicans turned out at the March 1 caucuses. Even with Republican and Democratic officials preparing for record crowds, caucus leaders in many parts of Minnesota were overwhelmed.

"The long lines, short voting window and shortages of ballots and registration sheets made for a very confusing and dispiriting experience," Martin said.


There were reports that thousands of Minnesotans were so frustrated that they left before voting.

Caucuses opened at 7 p.m. and state law required voting to wrap up by 8 p.m., but many of the state's 4,109 precinct caucuses took longer than that.

Martin, speaking for himself and not the party, said that he has contacted legislative leaders of both major parties to urge adoption of a hybrid caucus-primary system.

"Our caucus system forces a more personal type of politics where our candidates and elected officials have to have conversations with the grassroots," Martin said, indicating he is not ready to give that up.

The system Martin suggested was to have a state-conducted presidential primary, much like other elections. That would allow easier voting by allowing Minnesotans to cast ballots throughout the day.

Then the party would caucus a week later for normal business of electing officers, debating issues and electing convention delegates. The party would change its rules to require anyone elected to be national delegate to have taken part in both the primary and caucus.

"I believe that this system would ensure the broadest participation possible without disenfranchising people," Martin said.

Martin's GOP counterpart also is open to discussing change, but made no commitments.


"I am very amenable to a discussion with the Legislature about how to improve it." Downey said. "The critique is legitimate of the system in law right now that tries to jam an entire statewide election into one room for one hour in every precinct."

Downey aid that is there are "sincere efforts and legitimate ways to improve how we do things, we are very willing to be part of the discussions."

Downey and Martin earlier had given strong support to the caucus system, saying it helped build the parties. However, Martin said that if there was a grassroots movement to change to a primary, he would support it.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and a Republican legislator already said that Minnesota should dump precinct caucuses and move to a presidential primary election.

Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington issued a statement right after caucus voting ended Tuesday night saying that while record and near-record numbers turned out and volunteers at caucuses did "an exceptional job," it is time to put the presidential nomination decision in the hands of a broader voter base.

"It is clear that the caucus system does not work for selecting a president," he said. "Unfortunately, in Farmington and other communities - despite the best efforts of volunteers - we simply lack the parking or facilities to accommodate turnout of this magnitude. Candidly, Minnesota deserves better."

Garofalo promised to introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session to institute a presidential primary.

Dayton said that he wants to see Garofalo's bill, and he supports the concept.


Calling the Garofalo idea "a very constructive suggestion," Dayton said that the timing of a primary "should be to maximize the influence of Minnesota voters." In other words, it should not fall too late in the process.

When Dayton ran for governor in 2010, he skipped the party endorsement process and went straight to a primary election.

Dayton said the caucuses meant his candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost to Bernie Sanders.

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