The front lines of democracy

A Minneapolis precinct caucus in 2008. (PHOTO: Chris Gallevo, Flickr CC)

A Minneapolis precinct caucus in 2008. (PHOTO: Chris Gallevo, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Ever since control of the major parties was (at least partially) wrested from chain-smoking whiskey-soaked power brokers, Minnesotans have indicated their Presidential preference at caucuses.

So what is a caucus?

A caucus is a community meeting. Minnesota’s major parties hold them every two years in the late winter/early spring. Your caucus location is often, though not always where you would normally vote. Check the Secretary of State’s website ( to find your caucus location.

What happens at a caucus?

You’ll arrive, sign in and they’ll hand you a presidential ballot. You’ll mark the ballot for the candidate of your choice and put it in the box or envelope. You’re encouraged to stay for the meeting. There will be introductions, some folks will talk — some will be weird and some will be kinda normal. Delegates will be elected to serve at the next level of party organization: the county unit convention.

I remember my first precinct caucus on Minnesota’s Iron Range, a haven of labor organizing and even as late as 1998, some old ethnic identity politics.

The proceeding was led by a big guy with a dark mustache. These guys come standard with Iron Range politics. If you’re at something and you don’t see a big guy with a dark mustache chances are you’ve wandered into the ladies room by accident. You’ll be able to tell because you’ll probably see a big lady in front of the mirror plucking out what would otherwise be a dark mustache.

Anyway, after we voted, the big guy called the meeting to order, we official elected him caucus chair and went through some business. About halfway through they cracked open the ballot box, counted the votes, and we spent the rest of the time voting on a handful of resolutions that people had brought.

Resolutions are things you’d like your party to stand for. If the people at your precinct decide the idea is worthwhile, it will be forwarded on for the party to consider including in its platform.

Sure, it can seem a little overwhelming at first, and both parties have their share of kooky partisan characters. Nevertheless, this is how democracy works at the community level in the State of Minnesota, a state that prides itself on its high-minded civic attitude.

So this Tuesday, Republicans can choose from Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich or Ben Carson. DFLers will pick between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who campaigned on the Range just last Friday.

The outcome of the vote will determine the proportions of how Minnesota’s party delegates are divided before the national conventions this summer.

Is it pretty? Rarely. Does everything work out perfectly? Almost never. Is there awkward small talk? Of course. This is Minnesota. Strained social interaction is what we do.

But you also get to meet your neighbors, talk about important issues and have what is actually a fairly big influence on the outcome of Minnesota’s say in the Presidential race.
Minnesota’s caucuses are the front lines of democracy. Consider getting involved. The worst thing that could happen is that one of these characters could get elected president. And there’s no helping that.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.




    Yes, this is the best, and most accurate description of precinct caucuses in Minnesota published this year. My first caucus was in 1966, although I was too young to vote. Fifty years of caucusing in every Presidential election year and in most of the Gubernatorial elections as well. This process really is Democracy in action.

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