On Tuesday evening, Minnesotans in all parts of the state will attend precinct caucuses held in schools, churches, fire halls and other neighborhood gathering places.
MinnesotaConnected explained that the caucuses mark the start of the statewide process that ultimately establishes party platforms and endorses candidates for legislative, state and federal offices. Some who attend caucuses Tuesday night will eventually end up as delegates to their parties' state conventions in the spring, which will endorse candidates. The site notes that "heavy discussion about local, state, and federal candidates is encouraged as well as deep conversation and insights into the party’s platform."
The Secretary of State's Office has a Caucus Finder feature on its website to help Minnesotans find the caucus in their neighborhood.
MPR News reports that candidates use caucuses to test their strength. But without big races ahead, turnout is expected to be thin. This year, there is no presidential race on the November ballot. Democrats have incumbents in the two high-profile statewide races, with Sen. Al Franken running to return to the U.S. Senate, and Mark Dayton to the governor's office.
Republican caucus-goers will vote in non-binding straw polls to express their preferences for challengers in the races. Already several GOP candidates in those races have indicated they will continue their candidacies regardless of whether they win party endorsement, and will run in a primary later this year.
The Duluth News Tribune says that Minnesota is one of only 11 states in the nation that still rely on this style of political meeting to shape party platforms and to begin the endorsement process. Other states have replaced the precinct caucus system with primary elections, which get a much higher level of voter participation.
The newspaper said that political operatives and those who are involved in party activities favor the caucus system for its grass-roots approach.
In Minnesota, residents don’t need to be registered members of a party in order to take part in a caucus, but participants are asked to sign a statement confirming that their values generally align with those of the party.
This year, the Minnesota Independence Party is holding its live caucus meetings online.