Minnesota voters will have a much easier time voting for their presidential preferences this nomination season. Instead of going to caucuses, held in the evening, often in cramped quarters, voters can vote in the March 3 primary. Absentee voting begins Jan. 17.
That’s a huge improvement that probably will enable many more voters to participate.
But that easier access comes with a huge downside: Minnesota’s presidential primary will be closed, meaning that voters will have to pick a ballot for one of the four major parties — The Republican Party, the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party and two parties pushing to legalize marijuana.
As a result, each of the parties will have a list of voters’ names, addresses, year of birth and when they voted. Although the information likely won’t be generally disseminated, there apparently is nothing in the law that could prevent parties from selling this personal information to vendors that work with them.
The blame for this invasion of Minnesota voters’ privacy lies squarely at the feet of the two major parties. Legislators in 2016 scrapped presidential caucuses, following widespread voter complaints, and switched to a primary.
So far, so good. But then, supposedly under pressure from their national parties, Republican and Democratic leaders lobbied lawmakers to require voters to pick a ballot, and therefore a party preference.
As Minnesota Secretary of State Steven Simon, an outspoken critic of the closed presidential primary has said, “You have to pick a jersey.” He aptly calls the closed primary a “back-door party registration system.”
Simon is pushing legislators to change the law and switch to an open presidential primary when they convene Feb. 11. It apparently will be too late to change the law before the March 3 primary, but the six to eight weeks it takes Simon’s office to compile information from around the state would give lawmakers time to act.
Party leaders point out that they had access to the names of voters who participate in caucuses through sign-up sheets. That’s true. But it’s no justification for the parties to keep their grubby paws on voters’ personal information.
It’s important to note that some voters have very good reasons for keeping their voting preferences private. Some, Simon notes, have professional reasons, such as journalists, clergy, school administrators as well as city and county officials whose effectiveness depends upon appearing objective.
Minnesota lawmakers made a big mistake when they caved in to the prodding of political parties. They should act quickly to remedy that lapse and make Minnesota’s presidential primary open to protect voters’ privacy.
The point of moving to abandon caucuses was to take the process out of the party’s hands and to put the interests of voters at the forefront. Minnesota legislators should place the interests of voters ahead of parties.