The Nov. 6 general election is still eight months away, but candidates have already been on the trail for months: meeting activists, scoring endorsements and raising money.
They’re preparing for a pivotal 2018 cycle in Minnesota, an election that will include both U.S. Senate seats, an open governor’s race, three other constitutional offices, eight congressional seats, and the entire 134-seat Minnesota House of Representatives. With so much at stake, it will be a hard-fought, high-dollar election, and the first major step is just around the corner: Precinct caucuses are Feb. 6.
There are plenty of hurdles candidates need to clear between now and election day, however, as well a lot of deadlines and events that voters should keep in mind as the 2018 campaign heats up. So here’s a timeline of the key dates to remember in the year ahead — all the way until November.
Jan. 31: Campaign finance filing deadline for 2017
Wednesday marks the first major campaign finance deadlines for candidates, political parties and outside spending groups covering their fundraising through 2017. And while such reports are generally only monitored by candidates and campaign staff, there’s useful information in there for citizens, too. The documents, which will be posted on the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board’s website starting Thursday, Feb. 1, will show what candidates are leading in the money chase, and what outside campaign organizations might be stockpiling cash to have a big influence in the 2018 election.
Feb. 6: Precinct caucuses
The 2018 precinct caucuses, for many, is the official kickoff of the election. At their most basic level, the caucuses represent an opportunity for activists in Minnesota’s two major political parties to have a say in setting the party’s platform and select delegates who may eventually go on to the party’s endorsing conventions. For months, candidates for statewide office from both parties have been appealing to activists, the most likely individuals to participate in the precinct caucuses. The more of a candidate’s supporters who move on to the convention, the better chance they have at winning the endorsement. The caucuses are not only a chance for activists to show support for their preferred candidate, it’s also an early indicator of electoral interest. Both parties expect high attendance this year, despite the fact that it’s a presidential midterm year.
Feb. 12: Legislative special elections
In the wake of the sexual harassment scandal at the Capitol, two legislators — Republican Rep. Tony Cornish and DFL Sen. Dan Schoen — announced their resignations in December. Gov. Mark Dayton called a special election to replace both members on Feb. 12. The races are heated, with Republican infighting consuming the election in Cornish’s southern Minnesota House district, while Democrats are raising money and desperately trying to hold on to Schoen’s seat in the southeastern suburbs to maintain a one-vote margin in the Senate chamber. As the first special election in a major political year, some are looking at the races as a potential early indicator of voter trends.
Feb. 20: Minnesota Legislature convenes
Lawmakers open the 2018 session on Feb. 20. That won’t necessarily put a pause on the 2018 campaign, but it does halt certain campaign activities until session adjourns on May 21. For example, for the entirety of session, candidates for constitutional office — governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor — cannot accept contributions from political committees, political funds, lobbyists, or unregistered associations.
March: Super Saturdays
For party activists, being selected as a delegate at the Feb. 6 precinct caucuses doesn’t mean automatic admission to the state convention. Delegates chosen at caucus must then attend a follow up BPOU meeting (basic political operating unit) in their community sometime in March, usually held on a Saturday (some activists call this “Super Saturday”). From that meeting, activists will choose which delegates selected at precinct caucuses will head to the state convention.
April 16: Campaign finance reporting deadline
This marks the first reporting deadline for candidates and will cover all the money they’ve raised and spent so far in 2018. This will be a telling report, but there are still four more reports due before Election Day.
May 22: Candidate filing begins
Candidates have already announced they are running for office and have been campaigning and fundraising for months, but they haven’t technically filed to run for office yet. May 22 marks the first day candidates can actually file to run in the 2018 election. Within two weeks of filing, they must also fill out a Statement of Economic Interests with the state’s campaign finance board, which includes all possible sources of income or other financial interests of a candidate.
June 1-3: Endorsement conventions
Voters have now made it more than halfway through the election year, but the first weekend in June is an important turning point. On the same weekend, Republican and Democratic party activists will gather to endorse candidates for statewide office, including governor, the U.S. Senate races and all other constitutional offices. Democrats are gathering in Rochester, while Republicans are meeting in Duluth. In the governor’s race, expect a heated fight in both parties for the endorsement that weekend. If one candidate manages to secure enough delegates and support to win the endorsement, he or she will head into the August primary with the financial backing of the party establishment.
June 5: Candidate filing period closes
Shortly after the endorsing conventions, the filing period for office closes. Most candidates will have already filed by this point, but some might wait to see the outcome of the party’s endorsing conventions. This is the drop off to see who is officially in — or out — of the 2018 election.
June 14: Campaign finance reporting deadline
The second report of fundraising and spending is due, with reports posted publicly online the following morning.
June 29: Absentee balloting begins for August primary
Minnesota lawmakers have changed several state laws over the last few election cycles that allow voters to cast their ballot up to 46 days ahead of election day. With the advent of no-excuse absentee balloting, Minnesotans can start mailing in ballots or turning in absentee ballots in person for the August primary starting June 29.
July 30: Campaign finace reporting deadline
The third report of fundraising and spending for candidates and spending groups are due.
Aug. 14: Primary day
The primary election lands on Aug. 14 this year, with polls opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. Get out and vote. The results of the August primary will winnow the candidates to just the top vote getters in each party. This also marks a defining part of the election. Soon, voters will have a clear contrast between the politics and personalities of the final candidates.
Sept. 20: Campaign finance reporting deadline
Here comes another —but not final — report of fundraising and spending by candidates, parties and outside groups.
Sept. 21: Absentee voting begins for general election
The no-excuse absentee voting opens up for the general election. Both parties will be working to get as many votes as they can cast ahead of Election Day.
Oct. 29: Final campaign finance report of 2018 due
The fifth and final report of fundraising for and spending for candidates, outside groups and political parties are due on this date, giving voters a sense of who is raising and spending the most money to influence the results of the race.
Nov. 6: Election Day
Congrats, you’ve made it. Get out and vote.