Primary election day would move about one month earlier, to the second Tuesday in August, under a bipartisan agreement reached Monday by a House-Senate conference committee. That's a salutary change in the state's election calendar that the full Legislature should accept, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty should sign into law.
A move to mid-August is a smaller change than the June primary sought by the Senate -- and by a few generations of state political reformers. This modest move likely won't dislodge state party conventions and their endorsements from their current position of exaggerated prominence. It might not even alter the convention dates, which now typically fall in early June.
But it will give election administrators a fighting chance to do a recount, should one be required after a primary, and still be able to conduct an election in November that meets the absentee ballot requirements of federal and state law. That law now requires that ballots be mailed overseas 30 days before the general election; Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said federal rules recommend a 45-day window, and are expected to be changed to require it.
The conference committee also stripped from the elections bill a move toward the full-blown early voting option that is now available to voters in more than 30 states. Instead, it established new absentee ballot processing rules that ought to reduce the number of incorrectly rejected absentee ballots -- the mistake that happened so often in 2008 that it has hung up the determination of a U.S. Senate race winner for more than six months.
Many legislators are wedded to the notion that, as much as possible, elections should be simultaneous events for all citizens. While that's a noble principle, in practice it serves to reduce election participation. Minnesota typically leads the nation in general-election voter turnout -- but those bragging rights might be challenged some year soon by a state that lets voters come to the polls before the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.