Q&A: Minnesota's precinct caucuses

Heading to the polls
Voting in Duluth.
Photo for MPR by Derek Montgomery

At Minnesota's precinct caucuses today, voters begin the long process of choosing candidates who will appear on the 2012 ballot in November. Whether you're a Democrat, Republican, Independence Party-backer or Green, here's a quick guide to Minnesota's caucuses.

Q: When are Minnesota's precinct caucuses?

A: State caucuses are scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7. The meetings start at 7 pm.

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?

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A: The first task of caucus-goers will be to select officials to convene and run the meeting. But the main action of the event occurs when caucus-goers choose candidates in a non-binding straw poll for state and federal offices, including for president. Caucus-goers will choose delegates to represent the precinct at district and county conventions, some of whom eventually will go on to become delegates to the national convention. Attendees will also introduce and vote on resolutions to the party's platform.

Q: Who can participate in caucuses?

A: In order to participate in Minnesota's caucuses, a person must be eligible to vote by the November election, live in the precinct and basically agree with the principles of the political party. 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: The state has had presidential primaries in the past, but defenders of the caucuses 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, who sometimes can sway other caucus-goers with their enthusiasm. People who would prefer a primary say that's a much better way to give a larger number of people a say over the party's nominee.

Q: How many people are likely to turn out for the caucus?

A: Four years ago, when both the Republicans and Democrats were choosing candidates for president, there was a very large turnout of more than 200,000 for DFL and 60,000 for Republicans. Republican contests in other states this year have drawn fewer voters than they did four years ago. Because there is no race for president on the Democratic side, it's unlikely as many Democratic voters will show up this time around.