Don't expect passion in primary

All the excess scrutiny about voter turnout for our recently held primary is customary but misses the mark ("After poor turnout, move primary date," Aug. 16).

First, the basics. A primary is a nomination, not an election, because no one takes office as a result. The purpose of a primary is for the major political parties to narrow their choices to one candidate each when more than one files for an office. Analyzing voter participation as if it were an election is a false premise that leads to false conclusions.

Casting a ballot in a primary requires a great deal of passion on the part of the voter. Low interest in a primary could result from a number of factors, including a highly satisfactory field of candidates, confidence in the party to elect the endorsed candidate or universal agreement among candidates on issues.

Second, there is the matter of defining what constitutes low or high turnout. Turnout statistics for the general election are worthy of comparison, because the entire pool of voters is already known, but since Minnesota voters are not required to register with a specific party, there is no metric for determining the potential pool of voters for a primary. Any speculation about "low" or "high" turnout is simply guesswork.

Third, Minnesota is an open primary state, which means voters can choose to cast their ballot in any party's primary. That makes it even more complex to assess the size of the pool of voters in a political party on any given day.

Finally, each year's primary nomination is unique, with only one candidate or perhaps several participating. This makes a fair apples-to-apples comparison elusive and, in my opinion, unattainable.

With all of these fluctuating variables and lack of factual numeric baselines, determining low or high turnout is a questionable exercise that may be interesting, maybe even entertaining, but cannot be expected to be accurate. Let's quit speculating and save the scrutiny for the actual election in November.


The writer, a Republican, is a member of the Minnesota Senate and former Minnesota secretary of state.