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Here's how the Minnesota caucuses work – and what's at stake

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Minnesotans will gather at neighborhood meetings across the state Tuesday to decide who they want to be their party's nominee for president.

The state holds caucuses instead of a primary, and this year it falls on Super Tuesday – a day when a bunch of states (12 for Democrats, 11 for Republicans) hold primaries and caucuses. Candidates are essentially competing for delegates. Once a candidate gets a certain number of delegates, they win the party's official nomination.

On Super Tuesday, more delegates are at stake than any other single day in the campaign, NPR explains.

"For the first time in forever, the Minnesota caucuses are going to mean something," Stephen Frank, political science professor at St. Cloud State University, told the St. Cloud Times.

Because of that, both parties are expecting a record turnout on caucus night.

What is a caucus and how does it work?

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A caucus is kind of like a community meeting held by the state's major political parties. It marks the first step in the (admittedly complicated) process to choose a nominee for president.

So at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, Minnesotans will head to their precinct caucus. And although each party caucuses slightly differently (read more on this below), they generally aim to accomplish the same things:

First, caucus-goers will select officials to convene and run the meeting.

Then they'll choose the candidate they would like to see as the party's nominee for president using a presidential preference ballot.

These results are binding (which is a first for the Republican party in years), meaning the delegate has to vote for that candidate on the first ballot at their party's national endorsing convention later this year, the Secretary of State's website explains.

How long does it take, and what happens next?

Presidential caucus voting must be finished by 8 p.m., the Pioneer Press says. So after everyone has submitted their preference, the results are counted, announced and sent on to the state party. (Read more on this below.)

People who just want to vote, may leave after that – but that's not the end of the night.

After the presidential preference ballot, caucus-goers will discuss resolutions and set goals and values for the party. They'll also choose delegates who will endorse candidates at future conventions, the Secretary of State's website notes.

To participate in a party's caucus on Tuesday, you have to be at least 18 at the time of the November election and generally agree with the party's principles, according to state law.

MinnPost put together a list of five things people should know about going to the caucuses. A couple highlights: The caucuses are only expected to last an hour, so it won't take all night. The ballots are secret, so people won't know who you're voting for.

How are delegates allocated?

Generally, delegates are split up based on ratios – so if one candidate gets support from half the voters, they get half the delegates.

But each party does it a little differently.

The Republicans have 38 delegates to send to the GOP national convention this summer – 24 of those will be determined by Tuesday's results in each of the state's Congressional Districts, MPR News says. The other 14 delegates are allocated on a statewide basis, determined by how well each candidate does in Minnesota as a whole.

Democrats will send 93 delegates to the national convention, according to the DFL's Minnesota Delegate Selection Plan, but the process isn't as direct as the GOP's.

MPR says 50 delegates will be allocated based on results in the state's Congressional Districts, while 27 will be allocated based on statewide returns.

Then there are 16 superdelegates. These delegates are party elders or current and former politicians who reside in Minnesota, like former Vice President Walter Mondale. They're free to vote for whomever they want to at the national convention, and don't have to pledge their support ahead of time.

The Pioneer Press put together a video that also helps explain the Minnesota caucus process.

What could happen with the GOP candidates Tuesday?

Politico has broken down the Super Tuesday map for Republicans and Democrats, noting Minnesota is the only Midwestern state on the calendar Tuesday.

State GOP chairman Keith Downey told the publication that Minnesota is one of the few mysteries on the map for Republicans on Tuesday, saying: "I think [Ted] Cruz, [Marco] Rubio and [Donald] Trump might be a little more bunched together in Minnesota, similar to Iowa."

Recent polls show the three Republican hopefuls are pretty close in Minnesota. Politico says Rubio is looking for at least one outright win on Super Tuesday, which could explain why he has recently visited Minnesota to rally supporters, and will again on March 1.

The Pioneer Press also explains more about what a win in Minnesota on Tuesday could mean for the candidates.

And how about the Democratic candidates?

For Democrats on Super Tuesday, Politico says Minnesota is one of the two key states to watch to gauge Bernie Sanders' performance, noting if he can't win here – a place Sanders' campaign sees as his "sweet spot" because of its progressive, largely white population – it probably won't be a very good day for him.

The Pioneer Press says Democrats are "heavily" invested in Minnesota ahead of Super Tuesday. The Vermont senator has focused a lot of time on Minnesota lately, drawing large crowds to his various rallies across the state. His push his has prompted challenger Hillary Clinton to strengthen her campaigning here as well.

National Public Radio has laid out six different scenarios that could play out on Super Tuesday. Read more here.

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