DFL party chief joins primary push

DFL Chair Ken Martin, appeared at a Feb. 24 news conference to encourage precinct caucus participation. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin says he now supports moving the state to a presidential primary.

Martin said Friday that he has told legislative leaders in both parties that he wants a system that ensures “more convenient,” daylong voting, as well as absentee ballots, in presidential years.

“No one who wants to participate should have to jump through the extraneous hurdles of the current system,” Martin said.

Overflow crowds at both DFL and Republicans precinct caucuses this week frustrated many participants and rekindled debate over a switch to a primary system. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he favors the move. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, is planning to introduce legislation.

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Political parties are in charge of the caucuses. State and local election officials would run a primary.

Martin, who's been a staunch defender of the current system, said he was pleased with the DFL turnout Tuesday night. But he said the caucuses were a “confusing and dispiriting experience” for many people, and some left without voting.

“That is no way to welcome people to our Party or to ensure that their right to participate is guaranteed,” he said.

Martin is not proposing to abandon caucuses. He said the “hybrid” system he favors would feature statewide presidential preference voting, with the results deciding the allocation of delegates, and then caucuses the following week to conduct party business.

Martin said he is also forming a committee to study ways to strengthen the the party’s caucus system.

Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey accused Martin and other Democrats of trying to blame the caucus system for Hillary Clinton’s big loss to Bernie Sanders in Minnesota.

Still, Downey said he’s willing to discuss changes.

"The Legislature passed the current process into law, and it is clearly their purview to consider changing it. And I am very amenable to a discussion with the Legislature about how to improve it," Downey said. "The critique is legitimate of the system in law right now that tries to jam an entire statewide election into one room for one hour in every precinct.”

Secretary of State Steve Simon said Friday that 207,242 people attended DFL caucuses Tuesday night and 114,245 were at Republican caucuses.