By the time you walk into the voting booth in November, there's only one candidate from each major party on the ballot.
It's simple and straightforward, but it doesn't start out that way.
There are often multiple candidates who want the chance to represent their party in any given race, so to narrow down the field, states hold primary elections. Any qualified candidate can file to run, but only the single highest vote-getter from each party moves on to the fall. This year, Minnesota's primary is Aug. 14.
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Primary elections are partisan in nature, so they work a little differently than the general election. Here's what you need to know to successfully cast your ballot:
Am I eligible to vote?
A quick test: Are you a U.S. Citizen? Will you be at least 18 years old on election day? Have you lived in Minnesota for at least 20 days? If you are a felon, have you completed all parts of your sentence? Are you legally competent?
If you answered yes to all these questions, you passed the test. You are eligible to vote.
How do I register to vote?
If you've already registered to vote at your current address and have voted at least once in the last four-year period, you're likely still registered. If you want to double check to be sure, it's easy to do online. But if you've recently moved, changed your name or it's been a while since you last voted, you need to register.
You can register 21 days ahead of time online or on paper, but if you haven't done that yet, don't worry: Unlike many states, Minnesota has same-day voter registration, meaning you can register to vote at your polling place right before you cast your ballot.
To do that, you'll need to bring with a proof of residence, and you've got plenty of options. The easiest is your driver's license, but you can also bring a permit, passport, school ID, military or tribal ID, student fee statements, a lease agreement valid through election day or most bills or bank statements that also list your address.
If for some reason you don't have any of those things, you can also bring a registered voter from your precinct to go with you to the polling place and sign an oath confirming your address. This is called "vouching."
Where do I vote?
You must vote in your local polling place, which is easy to find on the Minnesota Secretary of State website.
How can I cast my ballot?
Once you've figured out your polling place, you can head there anytime after polls open at 7 a.m. or before they close at 8 p.m. Your employer is required by law to allow you time to vote, and if you're still waiting in line when the polls close, don't worry. The law also requires that you get to cast your ballot. Make sure you know your rights as a voter .
But not everyone can or wants to vote on actual election day.
Minnesota has no-excuse absentee balloting, which means you can vote up to 46 days before election day either in-person at your local early voting center, or by requesting and submitting a mail-in ballot before Aug. 14.
Do I need to register with a political party?
Minnesota has an open primary, which means you don't have to register as a member of one political party or another to vote. But it's important to remember: once you're in the voting booth, you can only vote for candidates in one party. If you vote for candidates in both, your ballot gets tossed.
Republican and Democratic candidates are clearly labeled and separated on different sides of the ballot. To see for yourself, check out your sample ballot.
Are there any nonpartisan races on the primary ballot?
Yes. Nonpartisan offices are on the back, so make sure to flip over your ballot. While they might not be as prominent as something like governor, these officials make important decisions about your community every day. They include your local city, county and township offices, school boards and park boards.
Since these are not partisan races, you can vote for any candidate, and the two candidates with the most votes move on to the general election. If there's only one or two candidates running for a non-partisan office, they automatically move on.
Are Minnesota's data systems, and my vote, secure?
Nationally, there's a lot of concern about outside groups breaking into state election systems, but in Minnesota, that's not easy to do.
The state has a decentralized system spread out across thousands of polling places and officials in all 87 counties, so there's no single administrator. Minnesota also has a paper balloting system that is never connected to the internet during the voting process. That makes it hard to hack.
Can I wear a button to my polling place?
State law prohibits voters from casting a ballot while wearing clothing related to a campaign, like a T-shirt either supporting or opposing a candidate. Until June, it also barred voters from wearing "political badge, political button, or other political insignia" to their polling place, but that part of the law was struck down by the United States Supreme Court.
I want to share my ballot on social media, can I take a picture?
Yes, there's no law stopping you from snapping a photo and posting proof that you voted on Instagram, although the Secretary of State's office discourages the practice for privacy reasons.