When voters head to the polls in March to cast a ballot for Minnesota’s presidential primary election, it will be a process much like that of past primary and general elections in the city––with one distinct difference.
Voters casting an early ballot or heading to their precinct polling place on March 3 to vote for one candidate on either the Democratic-Farmer-Labor or Republican ballot will do so only after designating the party with which they designate with polling judges.
Unlike a partisan primary ballot where voters see the candidates of all parties but are limited to voting for candidates of one party only, the presidential primary ballots are not the same for all voters. The non-verbal designation of a voter’s party will be done by marking the appropriate box on a form collected by an election judge, who will in turn issue a receipt that will tell the ballot judge whether the voter gets a Republican or DFL ballot, and the ballot will be handed in a folder that is not color coded or otherwise identifying of the party the voter has selected, according to Bloomington City Clerk Janet Lewis.
Although voters must designate their party affiliation for the presidential primary, the procedures established are intended to maintain the privacy of a voter’s party preference or affiliation and maintain a nonpartisan atmosphere at the city’s 32 precincts, Lewis explained.
Other than the designating a party preference and disseminating party-specific ballots, “It’s just like any other election,” Lewis said.
The Presidential Nomination Primary is separate from the precinct caucuses parties hold biannually. Following the overflow crowds drawn to caucuses in 2016, during which presidential straw polls were held, the state brought primary voting back for presidential elections. Those overflow crowds made it difficult for voters to access their precinct caucuses.
“Some people didn’t have access,” Lewis noted.
So now, voters will have opportunities to head to Bloomington Civic Plaza prior to March 3 or their designated polling place on March 3.
For cities across Minnesota, the presidential primary means running a third election in 2020, which poses challenges. There is additional training required for the election judges, given that ballot procedures deviate from the procedures during other elections. And, the pool of judges isn’t necessarily the same as it was barely two months ago when Bloomington held city council and school board elections. Some of the judges who worked on Nov. 5 are retirees who spend their winters in the south and are therefore unavailable in early March, Lewis said.
In addition to staffing 32 precincts on March 3, each precinct needs to have an equal number of judges who identify as Democrat or Republican. There are nonpartisan judges who do not identify with either party, but they cannot count for one party or the other when balancing the precinct numbers. And as of last week, Lewis was short 32 Republican judges, she noted.
A shortage of judges from one party or the other is not uncommon around the metro, she said. If she cannot fill all the Republican seats needed, she’ll employ fewer Democratic judges and use uncommitted judges to fill out the precinct rosters as best she can, as she won’t have time to hire and train new judges for the March 3 primary, she added.
Besides staffing and preparing 32 polling places for a presidential primary in March, which includes the testing, dissemination and collecting of polling machines and other equipment, Civic Plaza will serve as an early voting site, beginning Jan. 17. For the first two weeks, residents of all precincts can cast a vote early at the city clerk’s counter. Beginning Feb. 4, early voting will be conducted in the council chambers through Monday, March 2, during business hours. The process is the same for early voting––voters will have to make a non-verbal designation of their party preference, according to Lewis.
There are other concerns with a March primary, Lewis noted. The city primarily relies upon churches to serve as polling places. In addition to securing the space for a presidential primary in March, Lewis needs confirmation that the sites will be plowed and shoveled in the event of snow, allowing for voters to access the polls that day.
“I’m encouraging people to vote early,” she said.
Absentee ballots are also available for anyone, able or unable, to vote early at Civic Plaza. Dissemination of absentee ballots is administered by Hennepin County, she noted.
A list of voters by party designation will be available to the state chairs of each party. What happens with that information is unknown, according to Lewis, who favors legislation that specifies or restricts the use of the information.
Minnesota has four major political parties, but the Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party and the Legal Marijuana Now Party are not participating in the primary.
The Republican ballot will include a write-in option along with President Donald Trump. There are 15 names and an “uncommitted” option for the DFL ballot. Any candidate that drops out of the race prior to March 3 will remain on the ballot. Delegates representing the parties at national nominating conventions are bound to the candidates selected on the ballots, according to Lewis.
Presidential primary information is available online at tr.im/pnp.
Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.