DFL allows ineligible voters to take part in precinct caucuses

A caucus volunteer stuffs ballots.
A caucus volunteer stuffs ballots into a full envelope during the DFL Caucus at St. Paul's Central High School in 2016.
Richard Marshall for MPR News 2016

Updated 3:35 p.m. Wednesday

For the first time, the Minnesota DFL Party will allow people without the right to vote to participate in precinct caucuses.

Party Chair Ken Martin announced Wednesday that felons whose voting rights haven’t been fully restored and immigrants who aren’t U.S. citizens can caucus and become convention delegates. He said the change was approved unanimously by the party’s executive committee. 

Martin described the move as overdue.

“After six long years, our party can finally live its values,” he said in a news conference. “As a party that supports a pathway to citizenship for the millions of dreamers and supports restoring voting rights to millions of ex-felons, this is a huge step in the right direction.”

The change follows a legal challenge that yielded a state Court of Appeals decision this month.

Martin said his read of the decision is that parties themselves can decide who participates in caucuses and conventions, even if those same people can’t vote in elections. And he pointed to a passage suggesting that the threat of prosecution doesn’t apply to caucuses, where parties enforce the rules.

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“Given the ordinary accepted meanings of the words ‘election’ and ‘caucus,’ we conclude that the penalties in these election statutes unambiguously apply to elections, not caucuses,” a three-judge appeals panel decided.

Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, a union organizer born in Mexico but who is now a permanent U.S. resident, said the change is significant.

“By opening the front door to historically excluded neighbors, making sure that those affected by the issues in our platforms have a say in the process and can grasp power to truly hold our own side accountable to our shared vision.” 

Minnesota Republican Party Chair David Hann reads the appeals court ruling differently and said voter eligibility is clearly defined in state law.

“If they’re doing it to allow their supporters to break the law to participate in conventions, then they probably have no hesitation about allowing people who are not eligible to break the law when it comes to voting in the general election,” Hann said. “That raises a lot of questions and concerns in our mind.”

Minnesota's Supreme Court is currently weighing a case that could give people with felony records access to the ballot box sooner than they have now. 

Party caucuses are set for Tuesday. Martin said 70 percent of the DFL gatherings will be in remote fashion due to pandemic concerns. 

Republicans will hold in-person events. They will conduct a preference ballot in the party’s race for a nominee for governor.