Minnesota Caucuses: FAQ

So I want to address a couple of questions that I’ve been asked about caucuses (or seen people asking about caucuses) over the last week or two.

Q. Do I go to my polling place? 

No. Find out your caucus location here:
http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/
and note that Republican and DFL caucuses are in completely different locations. Don’t go to the wrong one. A vote for Marco Rubio cast at a DFL caucus will be snickered at and filed with the other oddball votes and spoiled ballots. Ditto a vote for Bernie cast at a Republican caucus.

Q. Do I have to stay for the whole meeting?

No, you don’t.

If you’re a Democrat, you can go, sign in, get your ballot, cast it, and leave.

If you’re a Republican, you can leave after balloting, which is the first item of actual business on the agenda. Exactly when that will happen is a little uncertain, since it depends on how long it takes to get everyone signed in and for the convener to get things going. But if you want to leave once you’ve handed in your ballot, you can do so.

Q. How early can I come and get a ballot / how late can I come and still vote?

If you’re a Republican:

The caucus should convene at 7. The ballots will be handed out as the first order of business; my helpful Republican contact thought that at most caucuses this would probably happen at around 7:15. I would recommend that you try to get there at the beginning of the meeting.  Once you’ve handed your ballot in, you can leave. If you arrive late and they’ve finished voting, you are out of luck.

If you’re a Democrat:

According to the DFL’s official call (which you can find here) you can get your ballot as early as 6:30, when they start allowing people to sign in, and they need to keep balloting open until 8 p.m.

The actual language from the official call is in section II.B.4., on the fourth page of the PDF. “4. Preference Ballot. After registering by completing and signing the precinct roll, each eligible attendee will be given a ballot on which the attendee can indicate a preference for President (including uncommitted status). Balloting shall begin when registration opens and shall end one hour after the caucus convenes.” (Caucuses convene at 7 p.m.)

Following the precedent of polling places, if there are people in line at 8, they are supposed to keep balloting open until everyone’s gotten a ballot.

For either:

I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: before you head to your caucus, make sure you know your ward and precinct numbers. If there’s a huge line outside the school building, probably the bottleneck is not “signing in and getting ballots” but “a bunch of people are consulting the ward map to figure out which classroom they should go to.” If you can find another way into the school, you can head straight to the classroom where your precinct is meeting. There will undoubtedly be another line outside that classroom, but at least this one will be indoors.

Q. I’m a Democrat and in a hurry. What is my best strategy for getting in and out quickly but still being able to cast a ballot? 

Here is my suggestion. My recollection from 2008 is that the lines were at their worst between 6:45 and 7:15 as everyone got sorted out, sent to the correct room, and signed in. I would aim for 7:30 as the best compromise between “standing in the endless line” and “possibly getting delayed and not making it in time.” If you want to cut it a little closer, you could aim for 7:45, but bear in mind that parking is likely to be extremely annoying.

Even arriving late, you may still have to wait in a long line. They are expecting attendance to be extremely high this year.

Q. So okay, I actually am fine with either Bernie or Hillary but I am really not fine with Trump. I am thinking of going to the Republican caucus instead, and voting for Marco Rubio, even though I am definitely planning to vote for the Democrat (either Democrat) in the general election. Can I do that?

Short answer: you’re not supposed to, though it’s unlikely that anyone would stop you.

Longer answer: when you sign in for a caucus, you are affirming your overall agreement with the principles of the party you’re signing in for. Whether you’re comfortable doing that when it’s not true is really between you and your conscience (or between your conscience and your ability to focus on statements in the Republican platform that you agree with.)

In theory, if someone is in a caucus who really doesn’t belong there, the person who knows they don’t belong can challenge their participation. And, you are caucusing with your neighbors, so if you routinely put up yard signs for DFL candidates, someone from down the block might out you as a liberal. I think the odds of this happening are actually really slim, because Minnesotans in general are not a confrontational bunch.

Far more likely: you’ll run into a neighbor you’ve never discussed politics with. And they’ll get all excited when they see you and say, “oh, wow, I had no idea you were a fellow Republican!” and then going forward they’ll want to chat politics with you and you’ll either have to admit why you were in there or live the lie forever. Awkward. 

Finally, you have to write down your phone number when you sign in. And you will get endless calls hitting you up for money not only for the eventual Republican presidential nominee but for any Republican candidates in tight races. (Note: signing in at a DFL caucus will also get you a bunch of phone calls, of course. I spent a period of about three years fielding endless calls from both parties, and in my experience getting fundraising calls from my own side is not a whole lot less irritating.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: The one thing you really truly may not do is go to more than one caucus on Tuesday night. Caucusing twice is illegal.

(I am not sure if there are any Republicans out there considering crossing party lines to caucus with the Democrats, but all of the above information applies in the other direction: you’re affirming agreement with the principles of the party when you sign in, you can theoretically be kicked out if someone realizes you’re actually a Republican but that’s very unlikely to happen, and you might run into a neighbor who is super excited to realize that you are in their political camp. And you’ll get badgered for money for Democratic candidates.)

Q. Don’t we have a primary in August? Can I just wait and vote in that?

We have a primary election in August but it is not a presidential primary. This is your one shot at participating in the process of selecting a presidential candidate.

The August primaries are for Minnesota races, like seats in the legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. (And you can, and should, participate in that election.)

Q. I am a [CANDIDATE] supporter and I’m pretty sure that if anything goes wrong, that is [OTHER CANDIDATE]’s dirty tricks and/or the party establishment conspiring against us!

[heavy sigh]

This is a system run by the political parties using unpaid volunteers who attended maybe a two-hour training.

Things are going to go wrong. The lines are going to be horrible and that is not due to a conspiracy by anyone; it’s just what happens when you have to get hundreds/thousands (depends on the location) of people through a narrow bottleneck and sorted out into classrooms, over the course of about a half hour, using a process that almost no one is actually familiar with.

I am sure that the local DFL party leaders have preferences between Hillary and Bernie, (and the local GOP party leaders have preferences between Rubio, Kasich, Trump, and Cruz) but their #1 priority on Tuesday night is to build the party. They want to get you through that doorway, writing down your name and phone number and affirming your support for the DFL (or GOP) alongside your neighbors. They care about that far more than which presidential candidate you vote for, because they’re not just in it for the presidential race — they are deeply aware of the importance of the other races, not just this year but two years from now.

No one from either party wants to keep you out of the process. The problems you will inevitably encounter are not the result of malice. It is incredibly difficult to build organizational competence at running a complex event when (a) you have an all-volunteer staff and (b) this ginormous event happens either once every four years or once every eight years. (Caucuses are held annually, but a caucus when it’s just the wonks showing up is basically a completely different event.)

Q.  Caucuses are terrible. Who do I talk to about switching to a Primary?

I would suggest e-mailing your State Senator and State House Representative. To find out who those people are, you can check here: http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/districtfinder

You can also try e-mailing the Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon, since his office runs elections in general: http://www.sos.state.mn.us/

Finally, you might consider introducing a resolution at your caucus to have Minnesota implement a Presidential Primary election rather than relying on party caucuses for this purpose! The DFL resolution form is here; the Republican form is here.

Print it and fill it out before you go to your caucus. (You will have to stay for more of the meeting if you want to introduce a resolution.) You don’t have to use fancy language: “Minnesota should have a Presidential Primary” is a perfectly acceptable action item. When you speak on behalf of your resolution, bear in mind that the people at your caucus will include at least a few people who think caucuses are the greatest thing ever (so “caucuses suck” may not be very convincing), but even fans of the caucus system will often agree that it’s a problem that caucuses exclude all the people who have to rely on absentee ballots to vote in elections, from immune-suppressed cancer patients to deployed members of the U.S. Military.

My recollection from some years back is that one sticking point with primaries is that the state pays for elections, elections are really expensive, we don’t do any other elections in March or April that we could just piggyback the presidential primary with, and just overall, the State of Minnesota would greatly prefer to just stick the parties with the cost of running caucuses rather than shouldering the cost of running a primary election. But this could be changed, and I’m pretty sure it would be up to the legislature.

 

 

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