A friend in Tulsa, Okla., where I grew up, recalls his experience of voting there for the first time after a long absence from the state. He was directed to get into either the Democratic line or the Republican line. A lifelong Republican whose fealty was waning at the time, he asked (in a loud voice, I imagine): “Where’s the line for RINOs?”

He was clearly unconcerned about going public with his preference.

Primary elections differ from general elections. Primaries are a process for members of a party to choose the candidate who best represents the party’s goals — or is thought most likely to win. This decision belongs to no one outside the party. Period.

Don’t be tempted to cross over; you’d be committing fraud when you signed for the ballot.

Gone are the days of the fabled “smoke-filled rooms” when party bosses determined candidates. Since 1968, proliferating primaries have been giving voters a greater say in candidate selection. This year Minnesota joins the club for the first time since 1992.

The new process in our state does seem a bit rickety. But it is, as the saying goes, what it is.

In my view, anyone who feels kinship with a party should feel duty bound to participate in the primary. Those who don’t — RINOs, for example — may legitimately stay home.

Most, in fact, do stay home. In 2016 the average primary turnout across the nation was 28.5% of eligible voters. Not impressive? It was close to the record of 30.4% set in 2008.

But you know you have a party preference — act on it. Vikings and Twins games are for spectators; elections are for citizens.

Just so it’s no secret: I’ve been voting for Democrats every election for 51 years, with only one defection. In election years our front lawn generally has a sign or two supporting DFL or Democratic Party candidates.

When I first applied for a job in a financial training company fresh out of grad school, I was asked by the president of the company how I felt about capitalism. (Even the person who asked that question now knows it was inappropriate.) I said capitalism was OK with me but not to assume I supported all of then-President Ronald Reagan’s agenda. Turned out my interviewer was that rare Democrat in a C Suite.

My folks were Democrats in a Republican state, and no one paying attention in the neighborhood, at church or at the oil company where my dad worked had any doubt about his (slightly) leftish leanings. My paternal grandfather was a Democratic politician in Wyoming, another bright red state. And my great grandmother served in the Wyoming legislature as a Democrat. (Wyoming entered the union in 1890 with long-established women’s suffrage. Those cowboys respected their gals. Who knew?)

I have no desire to hide any of this. It’s an important part of my identity.

As for the several letters in the paper (Jan. 18, Jan. 19 and other installments) expressing annoyance at the possible, post-primary deluge of robocalls, e-mails, and old-fashioned appeals in an envelope: That would be a change from what? As soon as you donate money to a party or politician — even small amounts like my donations — you open a fundraising pitch cataract. Appeals for contributions pour in from around the country. This won’t change for me.

What might change — for the better — is that the Minnesota Republican Party, the NRCC, and the Young Republicans might finally stop ringing my home phone and cluttering my mailbox with bogus petitions and appeals for money. I’ve returned some of those appeals marked, in large letters, “You’re barking up the wrong tree.” Maybe they’ll get the message when they learn of my ballot choice in the primary. If not, I can live with it. Donations are the cover charge for democracy. Politicians have to ask.

Your choice of candidate, if you vote in the Democratic primary, will remain secret. Only your party preference goes to the major party chairs. If you vote Republican, however, your choice will be obvious since only one name will appear on the ballot. There will be a line to write in another name for the party to ignore. If you’re neither a Trump fan nor a RINO, I suggest you write “None of the Above” on that line. Plebiscites are for dictatorships, not democratic republics.

Incidentally, I won’t share my choice among the available Democrats at the moment — because I haven’t made up my mind.

You’ll know when the lawn sign goes up.


David Miller, of Minneapolis, is a board member of Minnesota Citizens for Clean Elections.