ST. PAUL -- Early voting is underway in Minnesota ahead of the presidential primary in March.
The primary will take place March 3, which has been referred to as this year's "Super Tuesday." Minnesota's primary will be one of 15 states and territories holding election events that day, and the only one in the Midwest.
March's primary will play a role in determining who the Democratic party candidate is for the general election on Nov. 3, although Republican ballots will still be available. No other offices will be on the primary ballot.
For Minnesota, the 2020 election cycle marks the first time a primary has been held, as the state previously had a caucus format.
"A presidential nomination primary opens up the selection process and allows more Minnesotans to participate," Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a release. "Caucuses are limited to a few hours on one evening; this primary will give more people more ways to participate, and over a longer period of time."
Absentee voting started earlier this month and ballots are accessible by request at mnvotes.org or at county offices. Absentee voters must make sure their ballot is returned on or before March 3.
"There are two main ways to vote absentee," Simon told the Pioneer. "You can go to your county office and vote at the counter, or you can have the ballot mailed to you."
The early voting method in the upcoming primary is similar to what Minnesota's used for its general elections, Simon explained.
"It's the same model," Simon said. "All of the same rules and laws apply. So, it's really the same process. The one thing I'd add is that it's a different kind of contest than an August primary or a general election in that people drop out. You don't see that in a general election. I think, on the Democratic side, you may see some people hanging back."
For those planning to vote in person on March 3, Simon said Minnesota's process of same-day registration is also available. Because another election in a cycle results in more activity for local governments, reimbursements will be available for cities and counties.
"When the Legislature passed the law creating the primary, they said the state will reimburse counties for their costs," Simon explained. "We're involved in determining what gets reimbursed and getting them their money, we're administrating that process. In Beltrami County, they might have costs for absentee voting, postage, hiring a temp worker or training. All of those things will be reimbursable."
Despite having a primary, though, caucus events will continue in the state. At 7 p.m. on Feb. 25, precinct caucuses, along with local and state nominating conventions, will take place to conduct party business. Caucus attendees will be able to select volunteers for political activities, discuss ideas and determine the party's platform, as well as nominate delegates for future conventions.
Along with the caucuses and primary, the time period will also feature township elections on March 10. On what's called Township Tuesday in the state, many of Minnesota's 1,781 townships will hold annual meetings where they elect officers, vote on taxes and discuss other issues.
Before election activities take place, though, Simon said his office will reach out to the Legislature when it convenes Feb. 11, regarding a part of the law that created the primary.
"The big issue that we're following and working on is the unusual situation with the data," Simon said. "The way the Legislature wrote the law has voters choosing either a Democratic party ballot or a Republican party ballot. We've never done that in Minnesota."
According to Simon, the record of which party's ballot a voter chooses will be given to the main two parties and to both of Minnesota's parties pushing to legalize marijuana. Simon called the process unfortunate and unnecessary.
"There are no legal restrictions of any kind on what they can do with that data," Simon said. "I'm asking the Legislature, when they come back in a few weeks, to add some limits and guard rails on what the parties can do with this information, to lock it down."
Following the events in February and March, Minnesota will hold its state primary on Aug. 11, before the Nov. 3 general election. For more information, visit www.sos.state.mn.us and click on the elections section tab.