Bug spray? Check. Sunglasses? Check. "I Voted" sticker? Check.

Minnesota's summer will need a new accoutrement this year. Legislators are on the verge of moving the state's primary election from September to hazy, lazy August.

The new date, which the state Senate is set to approve on Monday, would turn up the heat on sweaty summer campaigning and could make ballot casting as much a part of summer vacation as casting for bass.

The move, designed to comply with a federal mandate, would accelerate the political calendar and could even affect the outcome of the early gubernatorial primary. Candidates still lagging in July would have little time to surpass frontrunners. By Labor Day, the pre-primary horde will have been winnowed to just a few.

The result: a compressed primary election season, a lengthened fight for the general election and lots and lots of politicking over the summer.

Several elements make August a less-than-ideal time for a primary: Minnesota's cabin culture, summer travels, college kids away from school and a 70-year history of September as the time to get serious about politics.

"You might be able to win the primary with 75,000 to 100,000 votes" in a statewide contest, said David Schultz, a Hamline University business and public policy professor.

Even the Senate sponsor of the proposed switch fears that Minnesotans may not show up.

"Minnesotans do often go on vacation ... and aren't used to tuning in to the political season that early," said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka.

But with heavily contested primaries, as is expected for DFLers in the governor's race, voters might be more inclined to take time out from their summer schedules.

Political fallout

Who turns out may be just as important for politics as how many turn out.

A heavy showing by party loyalists would be likely to advance whoever got the party's nod at its April party convention. If a well-monied ad campaign sparks general interest, those voters might favor DFLers Mark Dayton or Matt Entenza, who have personal wealth to spend. (Republicans won't have a heavily contested gubernatorial primary; it's not clear what kind of primary the Independence Party will have.)

Jim Niland, political director for Minnesota's largest state employee union, says the earlier primary could mean a heavier turnout among older voters, who tend to be the most reliable.

"Anytime you move an election date, the people who have the best record of voting tend to still vote," said Niland, whose union has endorsed former U.S. Sen. Dayton. In addition to Dayton, Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner and some lesser-known candidates are committed to a primary. The DFL Party's endorsed candidate will join the crew, making for an pitched summer battle.

Under the old calendar, the primary winner would have had two months to raise cash, lick wounds, unite competitors and move on to fight for November voters. Now, the DFL victor will get an extra month to recoup -- but so will general election rivals from other parties.

"There will be more time for the general election campaign," said Republican chairman Tony Sutton, who said the August date is about perfect -- not too early nor too late.

For the military

Not everyone is crazy about the idea of an August primary.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who vetoed a primary date move last year, said August is "not ideal" and is more comfortable with the traditional September date.

Bonoff prefers June -- early enough, she says, to solidify the candidate field but well before people scatter for vacations.

Despite their differences, Bonoff and Pawlenty have united on the move to August.

Why? A new federal law requires states send ballots to deployed troops and other citizens living overseas at least 45 days before they are due back.

In the 2008 election, many such voters returned ballots too late to be counted or didn't even try to cast votes.

Bob Carey, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, said 91 percent of the nation's domestic absentee voters' ballots were counted in 2008. For overseas voters, the figure was only 63 percent. Overseas Minnesotans do slightly better, but still a quarter of ballots were discounted or unreturned.

Minnesota is one of about a dozen states with a primary so close to the general election that the 45-day window would be tough to hit.

Wisconsin wants to hold onto its September primary and hopes to get a pass from the federal government on the mandate, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. Most states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, are done with their primaries before August rears its sticky head.

In any case, don't get too used to voting in the eighth month.

"I would not be surprised if the August change were an interim move," Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said.

Bonoff hopes as much.

"Perhaps it will be August and then we will be able to gather enough political will to move it to June," she said.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164 Staff writer Mike Kaszuba contributed to this article.