A final word on Range political history and voting patterns

The history keeps coming! My Silent Cal post from two weeks ago and my update about historical Range voting patterns last week have elicited an important clarification from the Iron Range’s most prominent and respected working historian, Pam Brunfelt.

Actually, it is not accurate to state that voters had to request a ballot for the general election. The Australian Secret ballot was adopted in the state in 1891! The open primary system, one in which all political parties are listed on the same ballot so voters don’t have to request a ballot for a specific party, was adopted as a result of the Progressive reform movement. Under the closed primary system that existed before the adoption of the open primary, voters had to publicly declare which party ballot they wanted. Under the closed primary system, workers were, therefore, disinclined to go against the wishes of the corporations and their company spies because they feared the blacklist.

Voting results after the 1930s and the electoral success of the Farmer-Labor party reflected the emergence of the second generation of immigrants as citizens–many of whom were natural born citizens of foreign born parents. They began voting and voted for their own issues. They did not yet dare campaign openly for the Farmer-Laborites, but the party officials knew the miners/workers supported their candidates and vote totals reflected that change in party support. Once FDR came to power and began advocating for the workers in a variety of ways, miners expressed their electoral support nationally for the Democrats. The New Deal, the National Industrial Recovery Act’s Section 7 (a), and, finally, the National Labor Relations Act (commonly known as the Wagner Act) solidified Democratic party support and pulled the majority of Socialist and Communist Party supporters into the Democratic and Farmer-Labor party orbit. That support was further reinforced in 1944 when the Minnesota Democratic and Farmer Labor parties were unified (and the Communists ousted) by Hubert Humphrey.

The voting pattern before 1930 that tended to look like strong Republican support was actually because so few immigrants–first generation Americans–were not citizens and so the number of miners voting was suppressed. Many immigrants were not yet (and many never would be) citizens. Once miners could vote in large numbers–again mostly the children of immigrants–the Republicans would never regain their status as the “majority” party on the Iron Range. But the reality was that the Republican Party was never the majority party because the miners could not vote! Sometimes numbers do not tell the whole story.

I hope this helps clarify this issue. I have written about this in “Political Culture in Microscosm: Minnesota’s Iron Range” which can be found on the Minnesota Humanities Center website and was published in a political science textbook and reprised in the Hometown Focus a couple of years ago.

As always, if you really want the dirt on Range political history go read what Pam wrote.

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