When the next presidential election rolls around, Minnesotans will no longer be packing into classrooms and community centers to caucus for their preferred candidate.
Instead, the state will shift to a more straightforward presidential primary system — a change both DFL and Republican lawmakers say should help make the process more accessible for all voters. Though it won’t get a test until the 2020 election, the new law is one of a handful of policies passed by the Legislature in 2016 that are set take effect on Jan. 1.
Lawmakers had raised questions about Minnesota’s presidential caucuses in the past. But long lines, widespread confusion and complaints about the system during this year’s closely watched election cycle pushed the Legislature to a vote on the issue, said Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine. Sanders, who sponsored the legislation along with Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said it was clear more people wanted to participate in the process of nominating a presidential candidate — and the caucus system held some of them back.
“Even at my caucus place, which was a very large high school, we had people walking upwards of a mile trying to get in,” Sanders said. “It’s a very confusing system for people who aren’t super-involved in party politics.”
Presidential primaries are run by the state, rather than by political parties. Voters decide if they want to choose from the Republican or Democratic candidates. The type of ballot a voter selects — Republican or Democrat — becomes publicly accessible information, though the vote itself is not public and the party selection is not considered to be a party registration.
The change also means that voters will be able to cast their ballots at any time on the day of the primary, or use an absentee ballot. The caucus system requires voters to turn up at a specific time in the evening, posing problems for people without flexible schedules.
Though most other states use a primary system for presidential elections, Minnesota has held presidential primaries only a handful of times, most recently in the early 1990s.
With the next election still more than three years away, lawmakers could have waited to consider dropping the caucus for the primary, but Rest said leaders from both political parties were ready for a change.
“I think the immediacy of the ‘oh let’s not go through that again,’ response was timely and fresh and on people’s minds,” she said.
Rest said the primaries in 2020 will likely be in February, but each party will work that out with its national organization. Minnesota will continue to hold precinct caucuses for other races.
Other laws going into effect Jan. 1 include a regulation on how much insurance companies must pay in claims related to workers’ compensation and a provision related to how life insurance companies determine the amount of money they must hold in reserve.