ECM Editorial: Legislature should move ahead with presidential primary

Tuesday night, March 1, was one for the record books.

From Stillwater to Waconia, from Morrison County to Dakota County, the story was the same: Traffic snarled around precinct caucus locations. Parking lots over-flowed. Hundreds of people crammed into rooms designed to hold 50.

Caucus night was a huge success with great turnouts. It was also a nightmare and disaster for many.

The participation levels that night proved that our precinct caucus structure is not designed to handle large crowds. Many people were turned away because they just could not get through the doors before 8 p.m. Some never found a place to park. Others, those who work evening shifts or have commitments such as child care, could not attend.

Minnesota’s results exemplify the excitement, clamor and controversies of the 2016 presidential race. Our state showed our independence. Marco Rubio won, running well ahead of Ted Cruz, with Donald Trump finishing a distant third. Bernie Sanders did better than many expected, trouncing Hillary Clinton 62 to 38 percent. It’s fascinating to dissect the results — it’s what makes the political process so compelling.

And it raises the question: What would Minnesota’s results have been if we’d been able to vote in a regular primary election, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.?

We pride ourselves on high voter turnout, on concern and caring for our communities and our state. While we differ greatly on our choice for president, we share an intense interest and dedication to the process. We want our voices heard, we want to be a part of the decision-making.

We need to etch the images of March 1, 2016, into our brains – Minnesotans cared, we showed up for the caucuses, but unfortunately too many of us were unable to be part of the process.

By our strong participation, Minnesotans proved we want and deserve a presidential primary.

Bipartisan legislation is already being considered to create a presidential primary every four years. One proposal would put the presidential primary a week before the precinct caucuses.

Such an election will cost money. An estimate done a few years back showed it would cost about $3 million to accomplish. A more recent estimate by Secretary of State Steve Simon suggests the primary might cost $6 million. That is significant but many in our state believe it will be worth it.

Another issue centers on the significance of the results. Would each party’s delegates be bound by the popular vote? Should the parties – especially the DFL – be able to designate as many “super delegates” as they do? We do not want to repeat 1992, the last presidential preference primary in Minnesota. That was only a “beauty contest” — convention delegates were not bound to the popular vote.

It will also need to be decided whether we would have an open or closed primary. Minnesota currently uses the open primary ballot – meaning that anyone can cross over to vote in the other party’s election, a tactic sometimes used to bolster a candidate on the other side who seems vulnerable. Secretary Simon said Minnesotans don’t have a big appetite for closed primaries, where a person must declare his or her party choice before getting a ballot.

We believe delegates will need to have some commitment to the popular vote. Many will ask, would they be allocated as “winner takes all” or proportionately? We feel the proportionate choice is the best, and would be preferred by most Minnesotans.

The ECM Editorial Board supports a presidential preference vote and that the state should continue with its caucus system for all other races. We would support timing the primary to precede the caucus, and to coincide with other states’ elections.

We believe the presidential preference election should be binding on the parties’ delegates – most, if not all, delegates should be bound to support the candidate that the people have chosen, at least on the first convention ballot.

Gov. Mark Dayton (as did Gov. Pawlenty before him) has vowed he will not sign any election legislation that does not have broad bipartisan support. We are confident this is a case where Republicans and Democrats can work together to find common ground.

We urge you to contact your legislators and state your position on this important issue, and support action this session or next.

Let’s learn from March 1 – a night of great success and chaos wrapped into one – and create a presidential primary election on Super Tuesday, 2020.

— An opinion of the ECM Editorial Board. Reactions to this editorial — and to any commentary on these pages – are always welcome. Send to: [email protected]