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Calling on the state to include all Minnesotans in our caucus process

Emilia Gonzalez Avalos

There was a lot of news at the DFL state convention earlier this month, but one major development that you may have missed is an exciting step toward making our state’s political process a more welcoming place for all families in Minnesota.

On the last day of the convention, the DFL delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the state to change the law that excludes some of our friends and neighbors from our democratic process.

As Minnesotans, we are proud of the fact that we are consistently one of the states with the highest level of voter participation. We care deeply about engaging with our neighbors to make better lives for families in Minnesota, whether black, brown or white. We believe that all people should have a chance to make their voices heard.

But right now Minnesota law excludes people who aren’t eligible to vote from participating in the caucus process, including undocumented immigrants and people on probation or parole. That means our families, friends and neighbors are not allowed to be part of deciding who represents our state and makes decisions about the future of Minnesota.

This means that thousands of Minnesotans are excluded from our democracy. At the DFL Convention a group of Minnesotans took a stand to change this, a step we hope is the first of many toward a fairer and more just system.

Participation as a core value

DFL delegates decided to model participation as a core value in our state with the resolution, but this isn’t a partisan issue. This is about ensuring we are living our state’s values as a place where every person has a voice in deciding our shared future.

If we are serious about a Minnesota future that includes everybody, we should agree that inclusion of all our community members — regardless of race, religion or class — is needed to make our democracy as strong as possible. Minnesota’s strength comes from us being there for each other. This means bringing together people from every corner of the state and from different backgrounds to find common ground. This isn’t possible if we exclude people from our democratic process.

Those who currently have power like to divide us and blame certain groups in order to maintain a system that benefits only a small few at the top. If we change this outdated rule, we can take action that will reflect the best of our state and make sure everyone is included.

Our state and country’s history around voting and access to deciding who is in power has not been good. Racism, sexism and xenophobia have all caused us to exclude people in the past, and they are still lingering today. But at times in our past we have worked to come together to make positive change. These efforts have moved us towards a world where every family has the chance to be part of the process in deciding our collective future, but we still have much work to do. 

Concept behind this: the Golden Rule

The concept behind this work isn’t hard to understand. It is the Golden Rule, where we treat others the way we would want to be treated. We know that all of our families want similar things, but right now some of us aren’t able to take part in the work to decide who represents us.

That is why it was so exciting to pass this resolution and why we will be bringing this conversation to every corner of Minnesota. We know the state has the power to change this law and make our process stronger, and we will work hard to make it happen.

We must address inclusion and participation of our formerly convicted community members, immigrants and refugees who are not yet citizens. All of our voices matter, and when we cut some people out we weaken the future of our state.

Together, we can make Minnesota a state where our political process — the hard work of making a brighter future for our families — is something that is open to every single Minnesotan, no exceptions.

Emilia Gonzalez Avalos is the executive director of Unidos MN.


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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Alan Straka on 06/15/2018 - 03:36 pm.

    Just get rid of the caucus system

    This is just plain dumb. The purpose if the caucus is for the party to endorse a candidate and then we have a primary that actually decides who gets to run in the general election. And the primary will exclude all those people that the party wants to include in the caucus so what is the point? So few people actually participate in the caucus that it is essentially an undemocratic means for the party elite to control who actually runs. Allowing the disenfranchised to participate doesn’t mean they actually will. In fact, those are the groups that are least likely to actually show up at a caucus so again, what is the point?

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/15/2018 - 03:41 pm.


    The caucus process already disenfranchises many people who are actual voters. You cannot seriously be talking about having caucuses and trying to include more people in the process.

    I’m all for for letting people on parole/probation vote. And I’d like to make it easier for people to become citizens. But the idea of having people who can’t vote decide candidates to be voted on in elections by people who can is insane. DFL convention delegates are completely out-of-touch with the electorate (and reality) as it is, and that only would make it worse.

    If you want a more inclusive process, any solution that includes caucusea is pure hypocrisy.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/16/2018 - 10:59 am.

    Sorry. Something American (i.e., Constitutional and rule-of-law) makes me balk at feel-good “inclusiveness” that would permit non-citizens to make political decisions with and for us all.

    It’s the same thing, for caucusing, as welcoming Republicans into a DFL caucus or convention, or letting Republicans pick a DFL nominee in an open primary. Or not raising an eyebrow about the Russian government interfering in our 2016 presidential election, or the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. What’s the difference between a Russian oligarch intervening in what our country does, and an undocumented non-citizen Latino? I don’t see it.

    If citizens convicted of crimes serve out their prison terms and parole, they should be allowed back into full citizenship privileges, like voting and thus attending caucuses. But I’m not about to permit, say, a whole lot of non-citizen Somali immigrants vote in our elections or even (as they have been doing, quite massively and contrary to law) participate in DFL caucuses. Citizenship is earned, for those not born here, and it should be valued. Just because you live here doesn’t mean you have the right to vote.

    There are ways for non-citizens to raise their voices: they have free speech in this country, while they probably did not have free speech in their country of origin. They can volunteer in political campaigns if they wish, and be “included” in many civic activities that do not involve a usurpation of the rights of citizenship.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/16/2018 - 06:39 pm.

      Big claim

      I agree that this piece is absolute nonsense, but you have made a pretty big claim in saying that non-citizen Somalis are massively participating in DFL caucuses. Do you have any evidence to back up that claim?

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/17/2018 - 06:27 pm.

        The DFL in Minneapolis (several legislative districts in CD Five) may or may not have kept records of certain local conventions in the past decade where actual fights broke out over credentials–that’s short-hand for the existence of disputes over whether attendees correctly listed their own home addresses and whether or not they were citizens or simply residents of the particular precinct/district. Lots of irregularities occurred at the precinct caucus level where there were no translators available, so those using the Somali language could not understand those speaking English and vice versa. Recipe for disaster, and pretty quickly shoved under the rug by the party because the PR was awful–physical attacks and so forth.

        Elections are more closely monitored.

    • Submitted by Britter Ritter on 06/18/2018 - 10:04 pm.

      Include This

      A principle of “inclusion” is being abused by those who are and must be excluded, here. Who is this person to define Minnesota’s future? There are limits to everything. As the old saying goes, “it’s the exception that defines the rule.” Making exceptions points out the rule, not that everything gets to be an exception.

  4. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 06/16/2018 - 01:40 pm.

    Just Say No

    The precinct caucus is part of a purely political process intended to organize the political party at its most basic level and to select delegates to other political conventions. It is not a community festival or fair or event that is open to all who choose to attend. If you are not legally eligible to vote in the next election – for whatever reason – you have no right to participate (except as an observer) in a precinct caucus.

  5. Submitted by Garry Knapp on 06/16/2018 - 03:49 pm.


    People who are not eligible to vote should not be allowed to participate in the caucus process. Period. Those ineligible have alternate means to participate such as protests, volunteering for campaign work, donating to candidates etc etc.

  6. Submitted by Paul Drake on 06/16/2018 - 07:38 pm.

    Caucuses Discriminate against working families

    People who have kids and/or work long hours can’t spend a weeknight sitting in a meeting when they have to eat, do homework, go to soccer or go to work at their second job.

    If the parties want more people to participate they need to take modern life into consideration.

  7. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 06/16/2018 - 07:46 pm.


    This is a classic example of why people are abandoning the DFL party in droves. This is why Trump almost carried MN during the last election. Keep up the good work.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/18/2018 - 09:21 am.


    Once again we see rank-n-file Democrats instinctively rejecting a basic liberal reform. The same Democrats who delivered a catastrophic and unprecedented victory to Donald Trump won’t even discuss obvious flaws in their nomination process. Is this just about power or is it some form of denial, or both?

    Every demographic observation anyone has produced in the last 20 years tells us that the people Ms. Avelos wants to include are the most important potential voting block of future elections, and Democrats want to continue excluding them? This exclusion isn’t just a rejection of democracy, it’s a rejection of the very idea of democracy. And once again, it illustrates who and why “centrism” pushes the Democratic Party continually to the right. Everywhere you see Democratic centrists clamoring to bring more elite Republicans into their process while derisively excluding their natural base. Is it any wonder that the Party’s endorsement process hasn’t produced a MN governor in over 40 years? You have to go all the way back to 1971 to find a Party endorsed Democrat that actually won the general election, but noooooo let’s not change the process.

    What’s particularly funny is to see some of the same people here commenting who have recently declared that any idiot can currently get the Democratic nomination as a means of discrediting Erin Murphy when she got the nomination!

    Let’s hope the anti democratic Democratic voices here are a distinct minority within the party, for if they are not… the Party is doomed.

    The rest of us should be discussing Ms. Gonzalas Avelos proposition in an intelligent and respectful dialogue.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/18/2018 - 10:24 am.

      Anti-Democratic? Centrist?

      The reason those not eligible to vote are excluded from caucus participation is a simple one: caucuses are about nominating candidates to be voted upon in the election. Potential voting blocs are just that: potential. They are made up of people who may vote some time in the future but who are not voting now.

      I’m not sure how “centrism” plays into this, and I don’t deny that there is a resistance to change. I’m all for taking the caucuses out of the nominating process altogether. If we are going to keep them, however, it only makes sense to limit participation to those who will be eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/18/2018 - 11:25 am.

        Specious reasoning

        Since the nominations emerging from the caucuses often fail to win the primaries or the general elections obviously those currently “included” are not a representative sample of actual voters who show up for the general election. The whole function of nominating candidates is supposed to be finding those who can win elections. You’re assumption that limiting access somehow yields a representative sample of actual voters is clearly specious since your candidates have been losing for decades. The Republican Party is now the most powerful political Party on the planet.

        From a statistical perspective you’re assuming that the sample (i.e. “voters) you’re including are completely different from those you’re excluding. This is a specious assumption. For instance you would argue that high school students and teenagers should be excluded because they can’t vote. However that principle is based on the assumption that non-eligible teenagers exist behind some kind of Chinese wall with no connection or affiliation with eligible voters. This assumption would typically lead Democrats to conclude for instance that pro-gun control candidates cannot win an election. Democrats make THAT assumption at their peril today. Likewise the assumption that future citizens exist in a vacuum with no connections to voting citizens ignores basic realities. When my mother in-law was applying for citizenship, my wife and I were voting, our interests were intrinsically connected, not stuffed into impregnable silos of their own. People talk to eachother, they share perspectives, they form affiliations and loyalties.

        From a statistical perspective the non-voters you currently exclude could well create a more representative sample of general voters than the limited sample you currently rely on. From a political perspective it’s important to remember that a vast majority of the non-eligible voters of today are the eligible voters of tomorrow. Those voters are more likely to vote the Party that includes them NOW, then they would the Party that excludes them. Why are you discouraging Party affiliation and loyalty among future or potential voters?

        Centrism is evident here because this is a basic liberal proposal being rejected out of hand on the basis of conservative assumptions, i.e. limiting access to ballots rather than expanding access. Centrism is the process whereby an ostensibly liberal Party ends up relying on conservative principles when selecting candidates or establishing operational process.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/18/2018 - 12:09 pm.

          I’m Assuming Nothing

          I do not assume that caucuses are representative of anyone other than the people who care enough and are able to go.

          I am not enamored of the caucus system because it is so unrepresentative. I do not think it can be fixed by opening it up to those ineligible to vote; in fact, I don’t know what the fix would be. If it truly is (as I believe) unfixable, do away with it.

          “From a statistical perspective the non-voters you currently exclude could well create a more representative sample of general voters than the limited sample you currently rely on.” Sorry, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Potential voters could become actual voters–permanent resident aliens may attain citizenship some day, but are under no legal obligation to do so (as we are learning, many lawful immigrants may go for decades without becoming citizens). Then again, they might not.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/18/2018 - 01:13 pm.

            You’re simply restating your assumptions

            I don’t know why you deny your assumptions? You are as I pointed clearly assuming that being more inclusive would not “help”. The reason you can’t imagine a “fix” is your refusal to examine your sampling method. If you want to do away with caucuses then say so, don’t try to explain why they can’t be more inclusive.

            You make all kinds assumptions about potential voters, permanent residents etc. etc. that basically place them in some kind of silo you think Democrats don’t need to open up. That’s YOUR assumption.

            Part of the problem (I think) with your reasoning is that relies too heavily on triangulating vote mining that Clinton was so fond of. This idea that candidates can somehow identify and target the most likely “voters” without wasting time on everyone else is a statistical fantasy that gave them a 98% chance of winning the night that they lost. So:

            “”From a statistical perspective the non-voters you currently exclude could well create a more representative sample of general voters than the limited sample you currently rely on.” Sorry, but that doesn’t make sense to me.”

            In essence it might not make sense to you because you don’t understand how sampling works. Again, if Democrats routinely selected candidates that went on to win elections most of the time, you might be right to defend your sample of voters, but we know that’s not the case. And no one in the US is obligated to vote, so that’s not why ANYONE votes, that’s not a distinction between voters and non-voters or potential voters. Voter get their chance to speak in the primaries, but there’s no logical reason to limit caucus participation to voters only.

            Democrats need to understand that there is no guarantee that ANYONE will vote for them. Obviously the people who currently show up for caucus aren’t doing the best job of driving the Party to victory.

            The advantage that open caucus could give Parties is it gives you access to perspectives that you can’t capture with registered voters alone. It brings voices into the room that you wouldn’t ordinarily hear, and THAT can translate into more effective and popular candidate selection. Obviously people who vote don’t live in a different universe than those don’t or can’t vote.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/18/2018 - 04:24 pm.

              Okay, Then

              Do away with the caucuses. I think they are not fixable, and they are useless as tools for nominating a candidate who will be competitive in the general election. They are dominated by party activists and advocates for single-issues, but are not necessarily representative of the broader electorate. Tinkering around the edges to try to bring in different demographics just denies the reality.

              And yes, I am a caucus attendee. This year, I was proud to accompany my youngest son to his first “real” caucus (where resolutions were debated on and delegates were elected, unlike the 2016 presidential preference caucus). He and I were both delegates to our district endorsing convention.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/19/2018 - 09:20 am.

    Keep it or scrap it?

    So it looks like once you set aside reflexive hostility towards liberal propositions we’re left with two thoughtful alternatives: Keep the caucus system but try to improve it, or scrap it all together.

    The argument for scrapping it altogether is not without merit, but that argument assumes that nothing can be done to improve the results. It’s kind of interesting to me to note that some of those who typically tend towards incrementalism in general; seem to prefer the radical alternative of dismantling caucuses altogether in this specific instance. Is this just a case of: “If we can’t have it our way we’ll just take our marbles and go home.”? or is it genuine sentiment?

    If the process isn’t going to be changed, if your going to leave it the way it is, I would tend to support dissolving the caucuses altogether.

    On the other, I don’t see what Democrats have to lose if they try to make their nomination and policy development process more effective and productive? Making the process more inclusive isn’t a magic bullet of any kind, but it might be a step towards preserving the Party relevance and making the Democratic Pary more relevant. Right now there’s are basic disconnects between the caucus, conventions, and primaries. Instead of being a continuous process that produces coherent liberal policies, messages, and candidates, Democrats have a clunky amalgam of separate processes that appear to be at odds with each other.

    I wouldn’t assume that this can’t be “fixed”, that strikes me as an unduly gloomy assessment. I would advise that Democrats go back to the basics and form a liberal party organized around liberal principles.

    I think in essence the problem with the current process is that over time since the ascendance of neoliberalism and “centrism” within the Party- tunnel vision has come to dominate the process. Over the decades the failure to maintain or develop a clear set of liberal objectives has turned the process into an etch-a-sketch affair wherein every election cycle is simply a reaction or response to the last election cycle. As the decades past Democrats are increasingly in constant crises mode, always focused on the immediate election. The process has devolved from being a way for American liberals to define their mission and visions while selecting candidates to promote those missions, to simply being a process whereby Democrats try to find candidates who won’t lose to Republicans from election to election.

    I think opening up the caucus and being more inclusive as this proposal recommends, might a step towards regaining the lost mission of Party process. At any rate I don’t why Democrats wouldn’t at least try to improve their process before scrapping it altogether.

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