On March 3, Minnesotans will go to the polls to help its major political parties choose their presidential candidates. Sort of. Unlike the legislative and local government primary held in August or the general election held in November, the presidential primary will have some important differences.

Boiled down, the differences mean that instead of being held for the benefit of the voting public, the presidential primary is being held mostly for the benefit of the political parties.

This is a small improvement over the caucus system that has been used for years, because it allows people to vote throughout the day, instead of having to attend a caucus at 7 p.m. in order to make their preferences known. Precinct caucuses will still be held to endorse candidates for state and local races and to handle other party business.

However, the trade-off is that voters will lose some privacy. In particular, those who consider themselves to be independents or non-partisan may find the procedures for the presidential primary uncomfortable.

The biggest difference that voters will notice is that when they go to the polls, they will be asked to declare that they support the goals of one political party. Only then will they be given that party’s ballot. While the candidate they choose to support will remain secret, the party whose ballot they choose will be given the names of all who vote in that party’s primary.

While some people have no problem being identified with a particular political party, many others do. While the ballot declaration is supposed to be private information, it will be known to election judges and party officials. Leakage remains likely. In an age when social media attacks can go viral, a business owner or non-elective or non-partisan public official who declares for one party or another, may find that information used against them in the form of business boycotts or by initiating the ouster of government officials.

In addition, the DFL Party has decided to put 15 candidates on its ballot. If ever there were an argument for ranked-choice voting, this is it. With 15 candidates, the winning Democrat will be unlikely to receive a majority, and may not even be the choice of a third of those voters.

What’s more, the Republican Party of Minnesota has chosen to allow only the name of incumbent President Donald Trump to be on its presidential primary ballot even though three other candidates with gubernatorial or congressional experience have announced that they are running for the GOP nomination. Party officials apparently have become so loyal to Trump that they fear any intraparty contest would embarrass or even damage the president’s chances.

We think the purpose of a primary is to let the public decide who they think each party’s nominee should be, not to build a roster of supporters or to make the victor a foregone conclusion.

Over the years, the procedures used for the August non-presidential primary have worked well. Anyone who is willing to pay the filing fee or gather the necessary signatures can be on the ballot. This gives voters the widest array of choices possible. The August primary also requires that voters cast their ballot in only one party’s primary, but keeps secret which party that is.

It may well be that at times Democrats vote on Republican ballots or vice versa, but if a voter feels more strongly about stopping the other party from nominating someone than they do about choosing their own party’s candidate, they should be free to do so. And to do so without fear that their choice of ballot becomes public knowledge. Meddling by opposition parties has been minimal in the past. This poorly written law needs changes because it puts too much power in the hands of party officials instead of the public.

Early voting for the presidential primary begins on Jan. 17. As always, we encourage participation by voters, but urge the Legislature to review the results closely. The taxpaying public is paying $11.9 million to conduct this primary, not the political parties.

Thus, it should be designed to encourage maximum participation, and not primarily for the benefit of the state’s political parties.

— An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: editorial.board@ecm-inc.com.

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