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A relatively simple way to improve Minnesota’s caucus system

GOP activist Luke Hellier makes the argument that requiring attendance at a caucus in effect disenfranchises too many people.

Voters attending the 2012 Minnesota Republican caucus at Coon Rapids Middle School.
REUTERS/Eric Miller

On the day of the New Hampshire primary, it’s time to consider the many problems of a caucus system, like the one Iowa — and Minnesota — employs. Compared to a primary, a caucus is time-consuming, hard to understand, and inconvenient.  

There’s also another problem, which was demonstrated last week in Iowa.  A few hundred people closed up in a middle school gym is a Petrie dish for rumors that could, in fact, affect results.  

To recap: Amid the caucuses, some supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz started circulating the rumor that Ben Carson was going to drop out of the race. The rumor started when an overeager supporter misinterpreted Twitter messages that Carson was not immediately going on to campaign in New Hampshire. 

Carson did not drop out. He is campaigning in New Hampshire. And he told CBS News he believes the rumors affected the results in Iowa, where he had a fourth place showing behind Cruz, Donald Trump, and Sen. Marco Rubio.   

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“It’s a very contained environment where it’s easy to throw things around,” said former Minnesota House minority leader Marty Seifert, a Rubio supporter and veteran of dozens of caucuses. “If there are things that go out in the mail a week or two in advance, there’s time for people to refute. At conventions, there’s no time to respond, or maybe you don’t even hear it.” 

Both Democrats and Republicans have tried to change Minnesota law to move the state to the primary system. But party activists, who see caucuses as the only true test of grass roots support, have blocked those efforts.

One of those activists has come up with an idea that could split the difference, however. Luke Hellier is a public relations executive, former staffer for Congressman Erik Paulsen, and a Rubio supporter. He suggests that Minnesota should allow absentee ballots to be cast for the presidential preference ballot that is taken at caucuses every four years.  

Hellier makes the argument that requiring attendance at a caucus in effect disenfranchises too many people — everyone from parents with child care needs to those in the military. An absentee ballot would allow wider participation while keeping the caucus system intact.

Until then, the only way to vote for a presidential candidate and, in turn, the Minnesota delegates who will help choose the Democrat and Republican party nominees, is to go to a precinct caucus on March 1 — where, if nothing else, caucus-goers would be wise to be suspicious of whispering campaigns about any candidates.