Feb. 4 precinct caucuses unofficially kick off election season

Voters who would like an opportunity to shape political parties at a grassroots level may do so during upcoming precinct caucuses.

While the caucuses receive less attention during non-presidential election years, participants may still become involved in shaping the platforms of parties or seek election to party positions.

A straw poll for the governor’s race this year will take place. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, is the incumbent in the governor’s race. Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, has been considering a run for the governor’s office but has not announced a final decision.

All Minnesota House seats will be elected this year.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken will also run for re-election.

The straw poll is not binding on the parties but provides a snapshot of who the party base supports in selected statewide races. The party will endorse candidates at a later convention.

Voters who attend the caucuses will elect precinct officers during the event. These officers will coordinate political meetings, assist with campaign efforts and otherwise lead local party business.

Caucus attendees will also elect delegates to political conventions. The delegates will attend either district or county conventions, where they will then in turn elect delegates from within their ranks to congressional and state conventions. Those delegates will then endorse candidates for offices like governor or Congress.

Much of the time at precinct caucuses is devoted to voting on proposed resolutions. Attendees may ask that fellow voters at the caucuses support their ideas or goals. Resolutions that gain majority support at the caucuses are raised at future conventions for potential inclusion into the party’s platform.

All Minnesota parties with major party status must hold caucuses during statewide election years, including 2014. Parties with minor party status are not required to conduct caucuses but may do so if their organizers wish.

Participants must be eligible to vote in this year’s Nov. 4 general election. They must live in the precinct of the caucus and “be in general agreement with the principles of the political party,” according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website. Unlike some states, Minnesota does not have an official party registration process.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL Party, Republican Party and Independence Party all have major party status in Minnesota. Caucuses for all three parties are scheduled 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4. Locations for all major party caucuses are available through a search at caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

The Independence Party also offers a live, online caucus beginning at the same time. Interested people who are busy Feb. 4 may participate in the online caucus through Tuesday, Feb. 18. Visit mnip.org for more information.

Minor parties listed on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website are the Libertarian Party and the Grassroots Party.

The Libertarian Party plans “caucus-style” events in each state congressional district Feb. 3-8. Election of officers, petition training and candidate recruitment is planned. The Fourth Congressional District event is scheduled 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, at O’Gara’s at 164 Snelling Ave. N. in St. Paul. The Fourth Congressional District includes much of Washington County, from Stillwater Township and Grant in the north to Afton and Woodbury in the south.

The Green Party of Minnesota, although a major party in the past, is not listed on the Secretary of State’s website. Its own website contains information about 2013 events like the State Fair but does not contain any indication of any upcoming activities.

The Minnesota Grassroots Party, which lists a goal of repealing marijuana prohibition on its website, includes information about 2012 candidates but does not list any current information or events.