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Minnesota's presidential primary to cost nearly $12 million

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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

Minnesota’s presidential nomination primary next year will cost more than state officials previously thought.

After surveying all 87 Minnesota counties, Secretary of State Steve Simon said Friday that it will cost $11.9 million for local officials to administer the presidential nomination primary on March 3, 2020.

Back in 2016, Simon originally estimated the cost at about a third of that - $3.6 million - when lawmakers were considering the bill that authorized the presidential primary. Simon said the same legislation directs the state to pay back local governments for their costs.

“I do hope and expect that the Legislature will stand by its commitment in 2016 to reimburse the counties and the cities so that they are not left holding the bag for the costs of this extra election.”

Also next year, local election officials will administer the August statewide primary and the November general election.

Next year marks the return of an open primary to Minnesota for the presidential race. For decades, people wanting a say in the nominating process had to show up at evening precinct caucuses. The Legislature changed the law in response to complaints about the 2016 caucus, which drew big crowds and long lines.

Simon said there were many unknown factors when he made his initial estimate, including the cost of printing and postage.

“There were aspects of this that we just could not predict in advance,” he said. “And what we told legislators that a fuller and more faithful cost estimate would be based on an 87 county survey of what their costs were. That’s precisely what we’ve done now. But in the heat of a legislative session in 2016, that wasn’t possible.”