Primary elections are next week: Here's what they are and why they matter


While there are still 90-some days until the onslaught of presidential news is over, Minnesotans actually have a chance to sway some elections on Tuesday.

Aug. 9 is the date for the state's primaries, and polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. But what is a primary, and what does it mean for the average voter? We've got you covered.

What's the point of a primary?

Multiple candidates from one political party might run for a specific seat, whether it's in the state Senate or U.S. House. But only one can actually be on the ballot in the general election.

The general purpose of a primary is to narrow down the candidates to one per party, so there aren't two official Democrats, two official Republicans, two official Green Partiers, etc. etc.

Which primaries are happening in Minnesota?

The only race on Aug. 9 that everyone in the state can vote on in the primary is for an associate justice on the state Supreme Court. Since Supreme Court justices are nonpartisan (meaning candidates don't run as Republicans or Democrats), the top two vote-getters of the three total candidates continue on.

Gubernatorial race primaries are also statewide, but Gov. Dayton's seat isn't up for election until 2018. He will not be running in that one.

But depending on where you live there may be plenty of decisions to make and seats at stake.

There are several congressional, state representative and state senator seats that will be primaried to prepare for November.

Even people who are already in office (incumbents, as they're called), no matter how significant their position, are prone and susceptible to inner-party challengers – and losing to a newcomer is not out of the question. Keep reading for some examples.

Can you give me specifics?

In US Congressional race seats, several incumbents such as Betty McCollum (4th Congressional District), Keith Ellison (5th Congressional District) and Tom Emmer (6th Congressional District) all face opponents within their party. If the challenger wins, the incumbent won't be on the ballot. Tough luck.

Since filing for this primary ended in June, losers can't turn around and run as a third-party candidate (although write-in campaigns can always be attempted as a last-ditch effort).

Other politicians are vying to take on an incumbent in the general election. That includes the Republican primary race in the 7th Congressional District, where they'll try to find a candidate that can unseat Democrat Collin Peterson, the eight-term U.S. representative.

Local offices that have no primaries, such as some city councils and school board seats, have a filing period from Aug. 2 to 16.

How do I know who I can vote for?

Primary turnouts are notoriously low, especially in years without candidates for Governor. For example, in 2014 there were 401,000 votes in the primary, or just under 13 percent of the eligible voting population, MinnPost reported.

But you can plan ahead. You don't have to wait until Aug. 9 to find out who you can vote for.

With one feature, which is available at the Secretary of State website, you can enter your address to find out what is on your ballot through the aptly titled What's On My Ballot page.

It will not only lists which seats you are voting for but will also give you the voting location.

How do I register to vote?

You can register online, on paper, or on election day.

For detailed directions, check out this post from our friends at GoVoteMN. They also explain what to do if you're a student, in the military and stationed abroad, and what types of IDs you need.

You can check to see if you're registered to vote here, and actually register online here.

The Secretary of State website has registration information here.

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