Minnesota Primary Elections 2020: What You Need to Know

We vote in the primaries on August 11, so here are updates on registration, polls amid the pandemic, and races to watch
Minnesotans have the opportunity to vote in primary elections on August 11

FLICKR | Lorie Shaull

As you’re driving around Minnesota or reading, watching, or listening to local news, you’ve probably seen a number of political ads and endorsements. And while the November general election is fast approaching, our local Minnesota primary election is already here. On August 11, Minnesota voters have the option to choose which candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and more they want to see on the ballot in November.

Primary elections often see some of the lowest voter turnout, and this year, Minnesotans face a socially distanced voting process. “How will the pandemic impact voting and who shows up to vote in person versus through early voting?” wonders David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. “With [the pandemic] across the state, who shows up to vote and how and in what regions of the state will be fascinating to see.”

Whether you’re a voting pro or you’ve never seen the inside of a polling booth, here’s what you need to know ahead of this year’s primary elections.

Registering to Vote

The deadlines to pre-register online or to request a mail-in ballot have passed, but Minnesota allows eligible voters to register on election day. You just have to do the following:

First, figure out if you’re eligible to vote. In Minnesota, that’s anyone who is a U.S. citizen over the age of 18, has been a resident of Minnesota for over 20 days, and has completed any felony sentence.

Second, find your polling location (you can do so here).

And third, bring some confirmation of your identity and address, the easiest way being a state ID or a driver’s license. Don’t forget a mask, either!

If you requested a ballot to vote by mail, make sure that you send in the ballot on time. In Minnesota’s primary election, the state will accept any ballot that is postmarked by election day and received before the county canvass (usually a day or two afterward).

Pandemic Precautions

Voting during a pandemic isn’t ideal to say the least, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, whose office runs elections, has urged voters to vote by mail if possible. But, if you are planning on voting in-person, there are a number of measures in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

As per Governor Walz’s July 25 Executive Order, Minnesotans must wear masks in all indoor spaces and are encouraged to wear them in outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible. Minnesotans are also asked to follow CDC guidelines as they vote, keeping a 6-foot distance between themselves and other voters. Poll workers will sanitize all equipment (pens, voting booths, etc.) frequently.

Some cities have also limited the number of polling places accessible to voters, both to keep voters out of vulnerable spaces (like nursing homes) and to make sure people are voting in buildings where social distancing is physically possible. For some Minnesotans, this means that their typical polling locations have changed. Because of these two factors, don’t be surprised if voting takes longer than usual.

If you don’t feel comfortable going inside a polling place, you can also arrange for election judges to help you vote curbside.

Three people wearing masks hold signs in support of Antone Melton-Meaux, a primary candidate for U.S. Representative
Supporters for primary candidate Antone Melton-Meaux wear masks as they canvass

Tony Webster/Flickr

Know Your Way Around a Primary Ballot

In Minnesota, you don’t have to register with a political party before you vote in a primary election.

The ballot is broken into columns, with each major political party listed at the top. Their candidates for state and federal office are listed below. You can vote for any party, though you must pick only one. If you vote for candidates across multiple parties, your ballot will not be counted.

There is also a nonpartisan section of the ballot that features smaller local elections, as for county commissioner or school board. These candidates are not affiliated with a party, and you can choose only one per race.

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D) and former U.S. Representative Jason Lewis (R) are two of the candidates on the primary ballot for U.S. Senate
U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D) and former U.S. Representative Jason Lewis (R) are two of the candidates on the primary ballot for U.S. Senate

From left to right: Lorie Shaull/Flickr, U.S. House Office of Photography/House Creative Services

Who’s on the Ballot?

In Minnesota, the following are up for election: one U.S. Senate seat, all eight U.S. House seats, all 77 Minnesota Senate seats, and all 134 Minnesota House seats.

Here’s a closer look at the U.S. Senate election and a few of the U.S. House races:

U.S. Senate

Democrat: DFL incumbent Tina Smith (who was first elected to the Senate in 2018) is challenged by Ahmad Hassan, Paula Overby, Christopher Lovell Seymore Sr., and Steve Carlson. Smith is endorsed by a number of local political and social advocacy groups, including the Minnesota DFL, the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Education MN, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and more.

Republican: GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate include John Berman, Bob Carney, Cynthia Gail, James Reibestein, and Jason Lewis, a former U.S. Representative and radio host who is endorsed by President Trump and the Minnesota GOP.

Presumptive primary winners Lewis and Smith recently debated virtually about Minnesota agriculture, healthcare, foreign trade, and more.

U.S. House of Representatives

Among Minnesota’s eight congressional districts, here are four that local experts have their eye on, regarding both the primaries and the upcoming November elections:

To Watch: First Congressional District

Where: Southern Minnesota

In Minnesota’s First District, two uncontested candidates—GOP incumbent Jim Hagedorn and DFL-backed challenger Dan Feehan—will rehash their 2018 face-off, wherein Feehan lost by 1,315 votes.

Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, explains the stakes: “Hagedorn won one of the closest elections in the country in a swing district that [DFL Governor] Walz had narrowly won, and has been closely aligning with Trump in Washington. Will Hagedorn hold on despite the hostile environment, or will Feehan pull it out?”

To Watch: Fifth Congressional District

Where: Twin Cities metro

In the primary race for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Fifth District’s Democratic contest has garnered the most attention: The incumbent Ilham Omar is facing a challenge from political newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux, who raised $3.2 million between April and June, according to the Star Tribune—seven times more money than Omar.

While both candidates are progressives, Melton-Meaux is running on a platform of unity in response to what he sees as Omar’s divisiveness. Omar, meanwhile, is backed by some of the DFL’s biggest names (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, for instance).

To Watch: Seventh Congressional District

Where: Western Minnesota

Larry Jacobs is watching the Seventh District for a potential flip, from blue to red. Incumbent Democrat Collin Peterson (who is relatively conservative) has held the seat for three decades, even though the district usually backs GOP presidential candidates. As Peterson’s Republican challenger this year, the GOP has endorsed former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, who faces four primary contenders.

Jacobs explains, “Collin Peterson won the election in 1990 and then cruised to double digit wins—until recently, when he’s faced competitive races that were within five points. Trump won this district by 30 points in 2016. While this is a tough year for Republicans, the Seventh District may be one of the few races in the country that swing red.”

To Watch: Eighth Congressional District

Where: Northeastern Minnesota (Iron Range)

In 2018, a Republican U.S. House candidate won the Eighth District for the first time since 2010, with Pete Stauber edging out the DFL’s Joe Radinovich. Trump also flipped the district in the 2016 presidential race. David Schultz is watching with Minnesota’s long term in mind, to see “if Eighth Congressional District voting firmly moves it and the Iron Range over into the Republican camp and away from the DFL, which is where it has been for so many years,” he says. “For Trump to win Minnesota, he has to win big outside the Twin Cities metro area. Flipping the Eighth permanently also changes state politics and makes Minnesota DFL [only] for the Twin Cities, some suburbs, and Rochester. The rest is GOP. This is a big change.”

For more information about voting in Minnesota, check out the Office of the Secretary of State here, or see which candidates are endorsed by the Minnesota GOP here and the Minnesota DFL here.

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