On Feb. 5, the Republican Party of Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Independence Party of Minnesota will all hold caucuses, and will join 23 other states whose political parties will hold either caucuses or primaries as well, a day that has been dubbed ‘Super Duper Tuesday.’
The caucuses are coming, but what exactly are they? Each party does them a little differently, but essentially they are a neighborhood meeting. Members get together in each voting district to discuss party business. In the case of 2008, the business that will attract the most attention is the preference for a presidential nominee.
The caucuses have some laws attached to them. Employers must allow caucus-goers time off work without pay for the evening of the caucus as long as the caucus-goer has provided written notice 10 days in advance. State universities, colleges and public schools are prohibited from holding classes after 6 p.m. on caucus day and official government meetings such as those held by school, county and township boards, city councils, and state agencies cannot occur after 6 p.m.
DFL Party caucuses
For the DFL, the primary purpose of this year’s caucus-goer will be to cast a presidential preference ballot, to express support for a preferred Senate candidate and to develop the 2008 party platform.
The “precinct” is the lowest political unit in the DFL. Precinct chairs are elected on caucus night.
Anyone can participate in the DFL caucuses as long as they are not participating in another party’s caucus and subscribe to the party’s constitution and by-laws. Caucus-goers need not be 18 to participate, but must be 18 to submit a presidential preference ballot or vote for delegates. Caucus-goers must also reside in the precinct district where the caucus is held.
The development of a party platform for 2008 begins at the caucuses. Anyone participating is allowed to put forward resolutions on various topics that, if approved, will move on to the next party unit and eventually to the national party platform.
The presidential preference ballot is a “binding” presidential ballot and is a vote on the allocation number of delegates. In other words, the vote eventually determines the composition of Minnesota’s delegation to the national convention based on candidates. If candidate A gets 66 percent of the caucus vote, then 66 percent of the delegates going on to the next convention level will be supporting candidate A.
The delegation process works like this: at the precinct caucuses, delegates for county unit conventions are selected. At the county unit conventions, delegates are selected for congressional district conventions and state conventions. It’s the congressional and state conventions that ultimately send the delegates to the national convention to nominate the presidential candidate. The composition of those national delegates must reflect the presidential preference ballot percentage determined on caucus night. The exception being that the DFL includes a certain number of “super delegates,” mostly composed of elected officials, who are not bound by the caucus vote. Super delegates are a topic best left for another day.
Republican Party of Minnesota Caucuses
The Republican Party of Minnesota follows a similar structure but with a few differences.
Each precinct holds a straw poll for the presidential candidates. That straw poll may or may not be binding to the election of delegates to the Basic Political Organization Unit. Each precinct votes to decide if the straw poll will affect the choice of delegates.
The BPOU is similar to the county unit of the DFL and is made up of either a county or a state House or Senate district. Like the DFL, delegates and party platform resolutions make their way up the chain from precinct to BPOU convention then to the congressional district convention and state convention, and ultimately to the national convention. The straw poll does not necessarily dictate the make-up of the national convention delegates.
Independence Party of Minnesota
Information on the caucuses for the Independence Party of Minnesota, which has no national party, is unavailable until details are determined at the state convention on Jan. 26. But the party did caucus on Super Tuesday in 2004, conducting a straw poll of all candidates for president as well as a “none of the above” option. In a twist on the traditional ballot, the party used an instant runoff system.
Additionally, the party held a “virtual caucus” for two days to allow those who could not make it to precinct caucuses to participate.
The Independence Party caucuses select delegates for the party’s state convention. Like the DFL and Republican Party, they also introduce resolutions to help determine the party platform.
The Green Party of Minnesota
The Green Party will not participate in Super Duper Tuesday and has instead opted to hold caucuses on the traditional date of March 4. Because the Green Party of Minnesota does not have major party standing, they do not have to hold caucuses on the state mandated date of Feb. 5.