The secret ballot may not be so secret if Minnesota’s presidential preference primary goes ahead as planned.
The presidential primary law requires separate ballots for each political party, requires that all voters disclose to election officials the party ballot they choose and makes that data public record.
The primary will take place on the first Tuesday in March 2020. The presidential primary will not replace the primary for all other races conducted in August. The August primary and the November general elections would still be conducted without recording a party preference.
Unlike some states, Minnesotans don’t register to vote with a party preference. Even in primary elections, all parties’ candidates are on the same ballot so a voter’s party preference remains a secret. Publicly available election data only records your name, age, when and where you voted, not what party or candidate you vote for.
That tradition of privacy should be protected.
For years, Minnesotans have used precinct caucuses as the first step in choosing a presidential candidate. At the caucuses, delegates are chosen for district and eventually state political conventions. With the addition of the primary, caucuses will continue to conduct other party nominations and business, but parties would be bound by presidential primary results.
Precinct caucuses are run by the parties and when you attend, you have to pledge to support the party’s principles. But the presidential primary is run by the state and paid for by taxpayers.
There are several options for conducting the primary while keeping voters’ choices secret.
Secretary of State Steve Simon wants to conduct the presidential primary by mail.
Simon argues that under a mail balloting system, which is supported by counties and municipalities throughout Minnesota, every person registered to vote would receive by mail a ballot for the presidential nominating contest. To cast a ballot, voters would then be required to fill out and return their mail ballot by the day determined for the presidential primary. This would be functionally the same as those who chose to vote from home during the 2014, ‘16, or ‘18 election cycles.
Vote by mail could save millions of dollars in election administration costs, would allow voters to choose their party preference in the privacy of their own home, and has been shown in other states to increase voter participation.
“There is no good reason to require public disclosure of voters’ party preferences,” Simon said. “Minnesota’s voter registration system has never required a voter to state a party affiliation. Minnesota does not need to change a system that has worked so well for us for so many years.”
When the law was passed, the governor and both political parties supported collecting party preference data saying the national parties would not support the election outcome without it. The parties will find out who voted for their candidates and also who voted for the other party’s candidates.
A more costly way to protect privacy would be to include all parties’ candidates on a single ballot as is done with the August primary for local, state and federal races. All voters would receive the same ballot.
Either solution is preferable to capturing a voter’s party choice. The presidential primary law appears to be a back-door way of recording voters’ party preferences.
Contact your state legislators and urge them to work with Simon to change the law and protect Minnesotans’ secret ballot. Public disclosure should not be a part of the presidential primary law.