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It's that time again: How to caucus in Minnesota on Tuesday

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Caucus goers express support.
Caucus goers express their support for State Rep. candidate Ilhan Omar at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis, Minn., Tuesday, March 1, 2016.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP 2016

Editor's note: This is an updated version of a caucus guide MPR News produced for the 2016 elections.  

Minnesota is at the front end of a super-charged election year.  

Voters will pick a new governor, decide two U.S. Senate seats (a rarity), determine which party controls the Minnesota House and have a front-row seat for up to five nationally watched congressional races.  

The starting line is Tuesday, when the political parties hold precinct caucuses. 

  If you're the type to gripe about who's on your ballot come November, it's your chance to get in on the ground floor.   

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

What's a caucus?

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, Feb. 6 this year, is relatively simple: Caucus-goers need only to show up (on time) at their designated precinct gathering spot.

Cheryle and Duane Haugen of Rochester, Minn.
Cheryle and Duane Haugen of Rochester, Minn., look over ballots before choosing their candidates during the GOP caucus Tuesday, March 1, 2016.
Andrew Link | The Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP 2016

Off the top, voters will be given a preference ballot, asking who they'd like to see their party support in the Minnesota governor's race. It's a nonbinding exercise, but it's one that will start to separate the contenders from the pretenders.  

From there, major party processes begin to differ. It's the parties that run the caucuses, mostly with volunteers and a few paid staffers.

 

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.  

Caucus meetings aren't only about supporting candidates. 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.  

Volunteer precinct finder Keaton Leithead
Volunteer precinct finder Keaton Leithead, 13, directs Republican voters to their caucuses at Black Hawk Middle School, Tuesday, March 1, 2016.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune via AP 2016

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. The Independence Party is holding both in-person and online caucuses.

Who can go?

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."  

A caucus volunteer stuffs ballots.
A caucus volunteer literally stuffs ballots into a full envelope during the DFL Caucus at St. Paul Central High School in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday March 1, 2016.
Richard Marshall for MPR News 2016

In truth, there's no way for officials to verify that, because Minnesota has no registration by party.  

Be eligible to vote by Election Day — Nov. 6, 2018 — 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

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 on paper ballots.

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. — will hold caucuses, as well. It's best to check with them, however.

More information:

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

Thomas Engstrom leads the caucus.
Thomas Engstrom leads the caucus for South Bend Township in the cafeteria of Mankato East High School on March 1, 2016.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News 2016

What happens when I get there?

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

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

They will also choose delegates to represent the precinct at district and county conventions. Some of those people will eventually 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.  

It's up to you how long you want to stay and how much of it to take in. Both parties are expecting robust turnout, so allow ample time to find your site and a place to park.  

How soon will the results come in?

The political parties will begin reporting their results, probably on their websites first, just after 8 p.m. The timing for full results will depend on the turnout. Eventually, they'll be posted on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website.