My Point of View: Caucus or presidential primary in Minnesota?

Published 7:42 pm Monday, December 10, 2018

My Point of View by Ebenezer Howe III

Ebenezer Howe


The 2020 presidential election cycle started at 8 p.m. Tuesday following the first Monday in November of this year — it actually was well on its way by then.

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The 2016 presidential cycle was a wide-open affair since President Obama was in his second term and not up for re-election again. I am not sure how many candidates had their hat in the ring during the cycle, but it was a lot of them. The first debates of the cycle in 2015 had, as I recall, five candidates on the Democrat side and 17 candidates for the Republicans. Then just for good measure, Donald Trump was one of the candidates, and his presence in the group just added extra media coverage. All this produced the environment for excessively high attendance at the 2016 caucuses for both parties. And, at least for the Republicans, it was the first time the results of the presidential poll was binding for the first ballot at the national convention.

Turnout in Freeborn County for the Republicans was twice the previous high and about six to eight times normal. Even though it was a bit chaotic at times, we vacated Southwest Middle School by 9 p.m. with all caucus activity completed and results of the presidential poll transmitted to the state by 8 p.m. Not all precinct caucuses in 2016 went that well, and we could have been smoother, which ended in a push to get legislation passed to switch Minnesota from a caucus state to a primary State for presidential years. It did pass, for a state-run primary, which I feel is unfortunate, and now some folks are starting to get heartburn over some of the implementation plans.

This will be the fourth time Minnesota has tried the presidential primary route. There is a good chronological history of this by Dr. Eric Ostermeier called “A Brief History of Minnesota Presidential Primaries.” When the resolution in support of the state-run presidential primary came up at our county convention, my “Nay” was loud enough to cause a rising vote, even though by a wide margin, I lost. All of this setup was so I could start rubbing salt into the wounds.

One thing that might cause issues for Minnesota voters is that you must declare what party you will be voting for in the primary and that declaration is made public. This will not sit well with our voters, and I am thinking it might chase away as much as 10 percent of them.

There are 4,113 precincts in Minnesota and $4 million a year to pay for the election costs. I don’t think you could accomplish the training for that amount. Now if that is $4 million per calendar year so that you had $16 million each presidential year, then maybe. Since there were not enough funds set aside to administer the presidential primary election in the manner as past elections, the idea of mail-in balloting has been suggested. This will not sit well with the folks who want to go to the polls between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. in person, of which I am one.

If we do not have some dynamic candidates come forward in 2020 who bring folks to the polls (even if they are mail-in) in droves, Minnesota’s excitement with presidential primary voting will fizzle, and by 2024 or 2028 we will again be a caucus state. And, of course, I will be rooting for that to happen.

Alden resident Ebenezer Howe is chairman of the Freeborn County Republican Party. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the local party members.