As early voting in Minnesota’s presidential primary starts, parties await prized data

Vote here signs outside a polling place
“Vote Here” signs mark the entrance to the St. Joan of Arc Community Center on Election Day 2023.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

On paper, Minnesota voters have plenty of options on the state’s presidential primary ballot. In reality, fewer of the candidates that appear on the major-party ballots will be actively campaigning when it comes time to count the votes.

Early voting opens Friday ahead of the March 5 primary. It’s just the second try with a primary since lawmakers revived it and subbed it in for a caucus straw poll. The votes will determine which candidates win delegates from Minnesota to their national nominating conventions.

For Democrats, there are nine candidates to choose from, an uncommitted option and a write-in line. For Republicans, there are five candidates and a write-in possibility. The Legal Marijuana Now Party also has five options and a write-in line.

Two of the listed Republicans have already dropped out since the ballot was finalized.

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People who have their minds made up can cast ballots between Friday and the close of polls on March 5 — also known as Super Tuesday. Early ballots are available to be mailed to a voter’s address or be cast in person at a local election center.

There’s a few things to keep in mind when voting in the presidential primary:

  • Presidential primary elections in Minnesota are administered quite differently than statewide primaries or the general election. In a presidential primary, each party has a specific ballot and voters request which party’s ballot they would like to use to cast their vote. In other elections, all the candidates appear on one ballot.

  • If a voter casts a ballot through the early or absentee voting process and their candidate drops out of the race, or if they change their mind, they have the option to “claw back” their ballot and cast a second ballot. Voters who change their minds or want a do-over must make that request no later than Feb. 15, before their ballot is locked in.

  • The state’s major political parties will also receive a list of every individual who selected their party’s ballot. Secretary of State Steve Simon noted that Minnesota is one of 18 states that don’t have party registration, which makes it difficult for political parties to get reliable identification on voters.

Getting a trove of data on voters interested in their party is a gold mine.

“It’s really a party building exercise,” said Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin. “We now have a list of several hundred thousand people who’ve identified as Democrats and our job is to get them more involved in our party than just voting for our candidates.”

Anna Mathews, Minnesota GOP executive director, said her party will use the data it receives from the election in get-out-the-vote efforts. Mathews and GOP Chair David Hann spent the weeks leading up to early voting traveling across the state and hosting training sessions for local GOP leaders to help them find ways to utilize the new data in campaign efforts.

“Our goal is to have all of our 121 local party units working hard over the next couple of months to turn out as many people as they can,” Mathews said. The party wants to ensure voters “understand how to take advantage of the new laws and how to take advantage of this primary.”

People sit in a room
Republicans gathered at Lakeville Library on Jan. 16 to listen to a Minnesota GOP training on using voter identification data for local get-out-the-vote efforts.
Ellie Roth | MPR News

In 2020, parties received a list of every voter who cast a ballot in the presidential primary and the party’s ballot they selected. Lawmakers changed the law to confine the data sharing so that parties will only get the list of voters who took that party’s ballot.

Simon said the change this year is a step in the right direction.

“The argument has been that this is sort of like a sign in sheet. If a person goes to a political party event, they wouldn’t be surprised or even offended if that entity had a sign in sheet at the door,” Simon said at a news conference Thursday. “But they might be offended, as many were in 2020, if you went to a political party event, they had a sign in sheet and then they just passed around the sign in sheet to other entities. And so at least we pared it down.”