Voters would be the real winners after such a change. Here's why:
The headline was enough to raise alarm with anyone who values civic engagement: "Primary turnout flirts with record low numbers" (Aug. 15). With only 9 percent of Minnesota's 3 million registered voters casting a ballot in last Tuesday's primary, now seems like the right time to have the discussion about moving the primary ahead to June.
It certainly wasn't a lack of competitive primary races that kept Minnesotans away from the polls last Tuesday. Congressional districts in northeast and southern Minnesota featured fierce primary races. Redistricting and legislative retirements led to a larger than usual number of legislative primary battles all across the state, some of them decided by razor-thin margins. Even in similar past years without a statewide primary race, turnout has not been this low.
Something more systemic is to blame.
This is the time of year where Minnesota families traditionally head to the cabin or lake, visit family or try to fit in one last getaway before the State Fair and school starts. Many also are busy preparing to send the kids back to school or off to college. People are largely tuned out from politics. The result is that primary turnout suffers.
We have joined together to advocate for this important change not because it gives either political party an advantage over the other. An earlier primary simply reduces the time that candidates spend competing against an opponent within their own party.
The leaders of both major political parties, as well as the governor and a large bipartisan group of legislators, all support an earlier primary. The biggest beneficiaries would not be the political parties or candidates; it would be the voters who would be the real winners.
• Turnout would increase here in Minnesota because of the national media attention that earlier primaries receive in presidential election years. Minnesota's mid-August primary is currently one of the latest in the nation. Moving the primary up to the third Tuesday in June would put us right in the middle of the primary calendar, and would align us with most of our neighboring states (North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa all have primaries in June).
• Moving the primary to June would devote more time to the general-election race between the candidates who will actually be on the ballot in November. With an August primary, intraparty battles take longer than the general election. That's backwards. Elections should offer more time for voters to hear the different positions and ideas of the two candidates who will be on the November ballot. The August primary takes too much time away from that debate.
• Winners of a primary contest held in June would have more time to realign their campaign to gear up for the general election. Last week's winners are scrambling to catch up with where their general-election opponent's campaign organization has been for three months. Giving them more time to adjust would help level the playing field between candidates and return the focus of elections to the issues.
Some critics have suggested that an earlier primary would be an advantage for incumbents, who would have higher name recognition. Others say it would give the advantage to challengers, who -- in legislative races, for instance -- would have more time to campaign while incumbents are tied up in St. Paul during the session.
As legislators, we find it ironic that critics have found conflicting reasons to argue against it. We submit that the advantage or disadvantage would be negligible at most and should not dissuade us from doing what will best help Minnesota's elections.
It has also been argued that moving the primary earlier will weaken the party endorsement by allowing wealthy or well-funded candidates to skip that process and go straight to the primary.
We've got news for you: Wealthy or well-funded candidates can already choose to do this, and have obviously done so successfully in recent years. The reality is with a late primary and limited time remaining for the general election, wealthy or well-funded candidates are the only ones who can be successful with an August primary.
We think it is best for elections when voters determine the final two candidates earlier in the process -- before they scatter on summer vacations, before they turn their attentions elsewhere. Let's put low turnout behind us and give ourselves a better election process by moving the primary from August to June.
Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, are members of the Minnesota House.