Minnesota primaries moved to August

The Minnesota Senate approved a bill to move the date to the second Tuesday in August.

by Kyle Potter

The governorâÄôs signature is the last ingredient missing from legislation that will move primaries in statewide elections a month earlier. In a unanimous vote Monday, the Minnesota Senate approved a bill that will move primaries from early September to the second Tuesday in August, which falls on Aug. 10 this year. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has indicated he will sign it into law. The billâÄôs sponsor, Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said the bill was meant to ensure Minnesotans serving overseas have enough time to cast votes in the election. Across the nation, 400,000 ballots from overseas were not counted in the 2008 presidential election because they were submitted late, she said. The bill represents the stateâÄôs move to comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in October. The act requires that soldiers and citizens overseas receive absentee ballots at least 45 days before an election or primary takes place. Bonoff said an August primary is normal nationwide, but she worries that the âÄúMinnesota vacation mindset,âÄù when people are less attentive to political issues over the summer, will decrease voter participation in primaries. She sponsored last yearâÄôs bill that called for primaries in June âÄî a bill Pawlenty vetoed. She said two more months would optimize primary participation and give the candidates who won the primaries more time to campaign in the general election. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, voted in favor of the HouseâÄôs version of the bill, but said she also thinks a June primary would be better. âÄúFace it: August has to be a worse time for voting than September,âÄù she said. Kahn thinks a longer interval between the primaries and general election would give parties more time to solve conflicts that arise during the primary process, and she said June primaries would be better for college students. âÄúItâÄôs tough for students. TheyâÄôre going to have to pay a lot more attention to voting than they might like to,âÄù she said. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the passage of the bill was crucial to make voting easier for citizens and soldiers around the world. Unlike Kahn and Bonoff, he said he is confident participation in this yearâÄôs primaries will not suffer because of the competitive races within each party. He said moving them will not significantly alter the low turnout numbers from the past. âÄúTurnout is really tied to public interest, not to the date,âÄù he said. And although many students will not be on campus for the August primaries, absentee voting will be the key to student involvement in the process, he said. He hopes student groups will take on that responsibility. One such group is Students Organizing for America. Jacob Breedlove, the director of the group, said the possibility that earlier primaries would hurt student involvement had crossed his mind, but he is not deterred. âÄúWe are going to redouble our efforts to make sure that students do participate in this,âÄù he said. Breedlove said his organization will be holding a âÄústrategy sessionâÄù later this month to brainstorm how to best encourage students to use absentee ballots in both the primaries and general election. He said he thinks the gubernatorial election may be more important to students than a presidential election âÄî a sentiment Ritchie agrees with. Ritchie pointed out that this election will be the first in years to focus solely on Minnesota and its future. âÄúStudents have the highest stake in that future,âÄù he said.