Party preference public in 2020 presidential primary

Want to vote in Minnesota's 2020 presidential primary? Be prepared to take an oath professing agreement with a party's principles and having that association become part of the public record.

A slate of rules, stemming from a Minnesota law passed in 2016, have been given the stamp of approval by an administrative law judge. The judge ruled in August that requirements some people found disconcerting could take effect.

The Legislature revived a presidential primary beginning with the 2020 election amid voter frustration surrounding precinct caucuses. In 2016, large crowds overwhelmed caucus sites, with some voters complaining that they felt left out by an antiquated system that requires everyone to show up at a building at the same time.

Voters will be expected to certify at polling places that “I am in general agreement with the principles of the party for whose candidate I intend to vote, and I understand that my choice of a party’s ballot will be public information.”

The rules, which go beyond the party oath section, landed before the Office of Administrative Hearing because at least two dozen people formally objected to them. Most of the concerns related to the portion requiring voters to attest they believe in the principles of the party whose primary they are voting in; those who don't won't be given a ballot.

Judge Jessica Palmer Denig noted in her 33-page that the system won't be all that different from participation in precinct caucuses.

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"In response to concerns regarding privacy, the Secretary of State notes that political participation is not a secret process. Under current law, individuals are required to affirm their agreement with most of the parties’ principles before participating in selecting a party candidate," she wrote. "For example, the attendance sheets at precinct caucuses include a statement required by party rules that the person is in agreement with the party’s principles or will vote for the party in the next or most recent election."

Furthermore, she wrote, caucuses have been held in public spaces, which make it possible to identify participants as they arrive or leave.

One person told the judge in written comments that the proposed rules could land in civil court. That person said the new rules fail to carry adequate instruction to  election officials on how to respond to voters who don't know a party's principles and can't make the pledge in good faith. He added that the rule would "inappropriately elevate the importance of party principles over the principles advanced by the candidates."

The date of the 2020 primary won't be known until next year.