State party chairs give boost to primary bill

The leaders of the state’s two major political parties have helped get legislation establishing a presidential primary back on track in the Minnesota Senate.

State Republican Chair Keith Downey and DFL Chair Ken Martin testified in support of the bill Friday during a Senate Finance Committee hearing. The panel approved the measure on a voice vote, sending it on to the full Senate.

Martin told lawmakers that the overflow crowds at this year’s precinct caucuses resulted in the disenfranchisement of too many voters.

“There were many voices that weren’t able to participate because we’re trying to cram 206,000 people into an hour and a half voting period," Martin said. "I think we have a responsibility to make sure more voices, not less, are heard in this process."

Earlier this week, lawmakers in the same committee raised concerns about the bill. One complaint is that voters would need to declare their party preference to receive a primary ballot. Both parties insist on the requirement.

Downey said the parties need some control over the nomination process.

“I don’t think we’re binding anybody’s conscience,” Downey said. “I don’t think we’re violating any kind of currently established premise in state law, or kind of the Minnesota spirit towards elections, by doing this.”

The bill allows party officials to jointly select the primary date in presidential election years. Precinct caucuses would still exist but must be held on a different date.

Some legislators still have concerns about the proposed change.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said she favors more discussion of the bill and doesn’t see any urgency to act this session.

“I’m not convinced yet,” Fischbach said. “I would suggest that maybe we do just set it aside for now and have those discussions during the interim.”

The House version of the bill is scheduled to make its last committee stop next week.

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