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A guide to Minnesota's Tuesday caucuses

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Caucus straw polls
Attendees vote on a delegation selection process during a caucus at Rutherford Elementary School in Stillwater, Minn., in 2012.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Editor's note: You can find an updated caucus guide for the 2018 elections here.

Minnesotans will join fellow voters in 11 other states (plus American Samoa and Democrats Abroad) on Super Tuesday to choose who they'd like to see on November's presidential ballot.

But only three of those dozen states will be holding caucuses — local meetings run by the parties — instead of primaries. Minnesota is one of them. 

Tuesday's vote will set the parties up for their final run toward the November ballot: Next come local and district-level conventions, then state and national conventions, where each party's nominees will be determined. 

How does it all work? And how can you participate?

Caucus details

Sue Nelson of Moorhead
Volunteer Sue Nelson, right, of Moorhead, helps Miriam Dakutak of Moorhead locate her precinct during 2014 Republican caucuses at Moorhead High School.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News

Choosing a nominee, from caucus to conventions and all the way to the ballot, is a complicated process. But the first step, which party faithful will take on Tuesday, March 1, is relatively simple: Caucus-goers need only to show up (on time) at their designated precinct and vote for their preferred candidate.

From there, major party processes begin to differ. It's the parties who run the caucuses, mostly with volunteers and a few paid staffers, at community centers and schools across the state.

When does it all happen?

Caucuses are scheduled to begin promptly at 7 p.m. across the state on Tuesday. 

(The timing is important, because state law says that many types of local government meetings — school board, county commissioners, city council, township board — cannot be scheduled after 6 p.m. on caucus day, to allow citizens the time and space to caucus.)

How long will it take?

Caucus voting must stay open, by law, for at least an hour — on Tuesday, which will mean it runs from 7 p.m. until 8 p.m.  Meetings could go longer, though, if participants choose to debate the merits of individual candidates — or if they choose to take part in party decision-making.

Minnesota caucus night
During a caucus meeting in 2012, Republicans at Coon Rapids Middle School vote for their favorite presidential candidate.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Caucus meetings aren't only about supporting presidential nominees. They're also an opportunity for local party members to discuss issues that are important to them — it's where they set party platforms — and to elect delegates who could represent them, and their votes, at local conventions this spring. They're a combination of big-picture voting and party-level work for members who want to get more involved. 

Where is my caucus?

Caucus meetings are held at the precinct level, often at community centers or in school cafeterias. Often, Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican caucuses are held in the same building.

Who can go?

Minnesota caucus night
Coon Rapids residents attending Republican caucuses check to find out where their precincts are meeting on Feb. 7, 2012, at Coon Rapids Middle School.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Typically, caucus-goers tend to be party regulars and voters passionate about a specific issue or candidate. But in Minnesota, you don't even have to be registered as a Democrat or Republican to participate in a DFL or GOP caucus. And you don't need to be registered to vote.

Caucus-goers are required to: Agree (generally) with the party's principles. According to state law, you may only participate in a party's caucus if you generally agree what it stands for, and only if you "voted or affiliated with the party at the last state general election — or intend to vote or affiliate with the party at the next state general election."

Be eligible to vote by Election Day — Nov. 8, 2016 — which, according to state law, means that you will be, on Election Day:
• at least 18 years old
• a U.S. citizen
• a Minnesota resident for at least 20 days immediately before the election
• not under a court-ordered guardianship in which the right to vote has been revoked
• not considered legally incompetent to vote, as determined by a court

DFL caucus
DFL caucus-goers listen to speakers at Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota's campus in 2014.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

In addition, according to the state, "a person who has been convicted of a felony may vote only if the felony sentence has expired or has been discharged by a court."

If someone challenges a person's right to participate in the caucus, the whole caucus — all the people gathered there — decides whether or not the person may participate.

How voting happens

All voting in primaries is done by secret ballot.

What if I'm neither Democrat nor Republican?

Some minor parties in Minnesota — those that are established in the state and have held a state convention in the past two years, but do not have a representative in major statewide office, such as governor, secretary of state, etc. — are also holding caucuses on Super Tuesday.

More information:

• Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party
• Green Party of Minnesota
  • Independence Party of Minnesota
• Legal Marijuana Now Party
• Libertarian Party of Minnesota

What happens when I get there?

First, caucus-goers will select officials to convene and run the meeting. 

Worthington caucus
Paul Langseth leads the Nobles County Republican caucus held at Worthington High School in February 2012.
Jackson Forderer for MPR

Then, they choose the candidate they would like to see as the party's nominee for president. 

They 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. 

Attendees will also introduce and vote on resolutions on a host of issues that could become part of the party's platform.

Are votes binding? (And what does that mean?)

For the first time in recent years, Minnesota's Republican caucuses will be binding — which means that the delegates it sends to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer must be allocated in a way that's proportional to Tuesday's statewide caucus results.

John Sikma
John Sikma stands with his fellow caucus-goers to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the Nobles County Republican caucus in 2012.
Jackson Forderer for MPR

Minnesota's Republicans will send 38 delegates to the GOP national convention this summer, 24 of whom represent the state's eight congressional districts — three per district. The district-level delegates will be allocated in proportion to Tuesday's results in each district. 

The additional 14 delegates are allocated on a statewide basis, according to how well each candidate does in Minnesota on the whole. 

The Minnesota DFL's process for choosing presidential nominees is driven by the straw ballot of the caucuses, but not entirely determined by it. It's still considered a binding vote, but works less directly than its GOP counterpart.  

The state's Democrats will send 93 delegates to its national convention in Philadelphia this summer. Fifty of those delegates will be allocated in proportion to Tuesday's caucus results. They are required to fairly reflect the presidential preference of voters at the caucuses. 

Caucus straw polls
A caucus group gathers in the library at Rutherford Elementary School in Stillwater, Minn., on Feb. 7, 2012.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

An additional 27 delegates — 10 party leaders and elected officials, such as big-city mayors or state legislators, and 17 at-large delegates, who are appointed during the state convention — will be declared at the state convention this spring, where they'll also declare their presidential candidate preference.

But the Democrats also have 16 superdelegates — party elders (like former Vice President Walter Mondale) and statewide officeholders (like Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar) — who are unpledged, or free to support whomever they would like at the national convention. These delegates are not bound by the results of Tuesday's caucus, and are free to vote their preference.

If you need a little more...

The Pioneer Press put together a great little video explaining Minnesota's caucus process.