It is caucus day in Minnesota. Around the state, voters of all political stripes take part in community meetings which are the first step toward choosing who will be on the 2014 ballot this November.
Whether you're a veteran caucus-goer or a caucus newbie, here's what you need to know about the unofficial kick-off to the election season.
Q: When are Minnesota's precinct caucuses?
A: State caucuses are scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 4. The meetings start at 7 p.m.
Q: How do I find my caucus?
A: The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State has a website that lists caucus locations for all registered state political parties.
Q: What happens at a caucus?
A: First, caucus-goers will select officials to convene and run the meeting. Then, caucus-goers choose candidates in a non-binding straw poll for state and federal offices, including for president. Caucus-goers will also choose delegates to represent the precinct at district and county conventions, some of whom eventually will go on to become delegates to the parties' state conventions, which endorse candidates for statewide offices including governor and U.S. Senate. Attendees will also introduce and vote on resolutions on a host of issues that could become part of the party's platform.
Q: Who can participate in caucuses?
A: You must be eligible to vote by the November election, live in the precinct where you are caucusing and basically agree with the principles of the political party to participate in a caucus. That means you can't go to both a Republican and DFL caucus, for example. The DFL allows 16 and 17-year-olds who won't be 18 by the November election to participate in party business, but not to vote.
Q: Why doesn't Minnesota just have a primary like some other states?
A: Minnesota has held presidential primaries in the past. But caucus defenders say they allow candidates who don't have a lot of money to have a shot to win by turning out large numbers of passionate supporters. People who prefer primaries say they are a better way to give more voters a say over the party's nominee.
Q: Which races should I be watching?
A: DFL caucus-goers will almost certainly choose Gov. Mark Dayton as their candidate for governor and Sen. Al Franken for the Senate.
That means all eyes will be on the Republican races. Six members of the GOP are running for Senate and six are running for governor.
Meanwhile, it's an open field for the Office of the Secretary of State because current Secretary Mark Ritchie is not running this year.
State Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins) and state Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) have thrown their hats in the ring for Ritchie's spot. Businessman Dennis Nguyen is the only Republican running for the seat.