The secret ballot is a cornerstone of American democracy. In Minnesota, we have always valued voter privacy by avoiding party registration as part of the voter registration process. Our political party preference has traditionally been secret. Unfortunately, that’s going to change unless the Legislature acts immediately.
The Legislature in 2016 moved Minnesota away from a “caucus” system for choosing presidential nominees when it passed the new Presidential Nominating Primary law. The caucus system had suffered from attendance that overwhelmed the ability of volunteers to handle and from rules that denied a voice to those who could not physically attend.
The Presidential Nominating Primary law created a new statewide nominating primary, set to begin March 3 for the 2020 presidential contest. But there’s a big problem: the Legislature wrote the law so that a record of which party you voted for — although not the specific candidate — could be available to the public. Think about that. Your neighbor or employer could have access to your personal political affiliation.
That’s wrong, and I am doing everything possible to protect the privacy of your vote.
This sort of back-door party registration system is something we’ve never had in Minnesota.
In fact, this is even worse than a party registration system. States with party registration at least provide an option for voters to register as “independent” or “unaffiliated.”
Minnesota’s current law provides no such option. If you want to vote next March in the new presidential primary contest, you’ll have to declare loyalty to one party — and that choice will be a matter of public record.
There are simple fixes to this problem. The best solution is to keep the party identification of each voter completely secret, although the major national political parties have warned that if party affiliation is not shared with them they could deny Minnesota delegates a vote in selecting their party’s presidential nominee. That does not mean, however, this data should be made more widely available. In fact, the political parties previously collected similar data during the caucus process, so providing this data only to the political parties is, in effect, no change.
But what happens when voters go to their polling place next March? They will still have to request, in front of their neighbors and election officials, a specific party’s ballot. The solution to this is mail-only balloting.
Mail-only balloting for the Presidential Nominating Primary would increase privacy by eliminating the requirement that voters request, out loud, a specific party’s ballot in the polling place on Election Day. Not only would mail balloting increase privacy, it would save Minnesota taxpayers money on election administration costs — as much as $110,000 in Rochester alone — that are typically most burdensome on our smallest cities and townships.
To protect voter privacy in Minnesota, the Legislature must act. Now.
Failure to change the law before the end of the current legislative session could significantly suppress voter turnout next year. Those who do show up to the polls in March may be surprised when they learn the new rules. And some voters might not even realize until long after they have voted that their party choice will be public.
We have the nation’s best election system, and Minnesotans should not have to compromise that by being forced to publicly reveal their political party preference in order to cast a ballot.
The Minnesota House of Representatives has already acted, but the Minnesota Senate has refused to even discuss the issue. That’s a disservice to the voters of Minnesota, who vote at the highest rates in the nation.
I urge the Legislature to fix the Presidential Nominating Primary law to keep Minnesota’s strong voter privacy protections in place.
The stakes are high, and time is short.