Bill would bump up election

ST. PAUL -- Voters would learn more about political candidates if Minnesota primary elections were held earlier, say proponents of a plan to change the state's voting calendar.

ST. PAUL -- Voters would learn more about political candidates if Minnesota primary elections were held earlier, say proponents of a plan to change the state's voting calendar.

Legislators and political party activists on Thursday introduced a plan to bump the primary election from September to June, claiming voters will have more time to study the candidates appearing on the November general election ballot.

Primary elections narrow the number of candidates down to one from each political party.

Rep. Bill Hilty, who often carries election bills in the House, said an earlier primary would help local voting officials. The time between when they process primary results and prepare general election ballots is only a few weeks.

"It gives you a very small window of opportunity to make all the preparations," Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said of the current election calendar.


Hilty, who previously sponsored similar proposals, predicted there is a better chance of passing such measures this year than in past legislative sessions.

Opponents of the bill said the public doesn't want a longer general election campaign, but acknowledged the measure could pass the Legislature in 2007. It would go into effect in 2008, a presidential election year.

Sen. John Marty, who suggested primary contests be decided just a month before the general election, said voters would pay attention to campaigns if they didn't last so long.

"The solution is not to make them longer," Marty, DFL-Roseville, said.

The state's top election official supports an earlier primary election.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, in office a month and a half, said the current system makes it difficult for Minnesota voters overseas - such as military personnel, international volunteers and college students studying abroad - to get their absentee ballots mailed home by election day in November. Ballots returned after the general election are not counted.

"We're very supportive of anything that moves the primary back to give enough time for ballots to go out and come back," Ritchie said in an interview.

The bill also proposes moving the political caucus meetings from early March to mid-February. That would provide more time for parties to conduct their candidate endorsement process, supporters said.


Leaders from all three major political parties stand behind the proposal, which also got initial approval from legislators handling election laws.

"I like it," said Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, who sits on the House Elections Committee.

People already see primary contests heating up more than a year in advance, Howes said. Voters probably wouldn't mind getting the primary election out of the way earlier and spending more time learning about fewer candidates.

"What difference does it make?" Howes said. "Let's at least end the speculation of who that person's going to be."

If a candidate relies on lots of campaign volunteers, it would be more beneficial to have them working over the summer in preparation for the general election, said Rep. Sandy Wollschlager, DFL-Cannon Falls.

Wollschlager, who faced a primary opponent in her House bid last year, said she and other candidates in her position "had to turn around and run for the general election in a very short amount of time."

Wollschlager, who has a seat on the House elections panel, said she would support the bill.

Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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