Candidate campaigning is already underway for the presidential election in November. But there’s a lot that happens between then and now.
When it comes to casting ballots, the process can seem confusing. Here’s what to know this election season.
Super Tuesday is the presidential nominating primary vote, which helps determine which candidates will appear on the final ballot in November. It’s not an official election for a candidate, but the process is similar. This year, Super Tuesday is on March 3.
Voters don’t have to wait until then to cast a ballot — or even to decide who will be on the ballot.
The absentee/early voting period started mid-January this year and extends until Super Tuesday. Absentee voters can fill out their ballots via mail, online or in person.
Minnesotans living abroad or serving in the military can have an absentee ballot sent to them anywhere in the world.
The two major Minnesota parties, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Republican Party, will participate in the primaries. Other offices will be on the primary ballot in August.
The right for time off from work to vote in a presidential nominating primary is protected by law.
The primary election for other electoral races, like U.S. Congress or the Minnesota Legislature, will be on Aug. 11. Early voting begins in June.
During absentee voting, and before the primary vote on Super Tuesday, precinct caucuses will take place. These caucuses let Minnesotans show support for their preferred candidates. They can endorse a candidate in the caucuses, which lead to the state party conventions.
During a precinct caucus, people can raise issues important to them, influence who the party will endorse, and show general support for a candidate.
"We have a very competitive senate race between two Republicans in Carver County for the spot on the November ballot, and that will be decided obviously during the caucus," said Vince Beaudette, vice chair of the Carver County Republicans.
Only those who sign up as a delegate at their caucus can vote that day.
That's why Beaudette said it's essential for people to become delegates.
"It's very important that voters go out and become delegates at the caucuses if they wish to have a voice with regard to who should be the next senator," he said.
Mary Leizinger, chair for the Carver County Democrats of Senate District 47, explains more.
“This is kind of the starting of the grassroots process,” Leizinger said. “I would encourage everybody to go to their caucus.”
So what exactly happens at a caucus? Leizinger laid it out.
You check in at your assigned location and group, comprised of immediate neighbors. A moderator will start the process and walk through the agenda. Then, discussion starts.
Election and allocation of delegates happens next. Delegates are then whittled down at the district, state and national convention. That’s when the presidential candidate is endorsed.
“Caucuses start the process of selecting those delegates. Not 100% of everybody goes to the national convention. Maybe 70 to go from Minnesota,” Leizinger said.
During discussions, people can bring issues to the table, setting forward resolutions or statements in favor of, say, an environmental issue.
“The key thing with caucuses is it’s the grassroots formation, a start our process that moves toward the nomination of our candidates as we go oup the chain,” Leizinger said. “This is this bottom of the link where we start moving on forward.”
Around 2,000 people out of the 100,000 in the county are expected to show up for caucus night.
"The turnout may be low statewide, but we expect more people showing up for these caucuses because of our senate race right here in District 47," Beaudette said, nodding to Julia Coleman and Tom Funk who are running this year.
Though just 2% of all Carver County residents will likely show up to caucus night, Leizinger agreed: That’s a good number.
“We’re expecting a large turnout as we typically do in a presidential year. The election can’t get here quick enough.”
A caucus finder will be available in early February at www.mnvotes.org. Voting locations for the general election in November will be at the same website.
Information used in this article was gathered in part by the League of Women Voters of Minnesota.
At what age can someone buy tobacco products? It’s a seemingly straightforward question, but it has lawmakers, business owners, and customers alike confused.
In late December, the federal minimum age for selling and purchasing tobacco products was raised from 18 to 21, effective Dec. 21, 2019. It was part of the legislation President Donald Trump signed, amending the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
On a national level, buying or selling tobacco products under age 21 is illegal now. But what does this mean for individual states?
“It’s still kind of a hodgepodge yet at this point,” said Rep. Greg Boe (R-Chaska) who represents District 47B.
If a 19-year-old walked into a Minnesota gas station today and successfully bought cigarettes, the business and the customer would be breaking federal law — but not Minnesota state law, which still sets its minimum age at 18.
Officials say most big retailers are making the federal change to 21, per federal law. But when it comes to smaller ma-and-pa shops, their sales might not reflect the change yet.
Law enforcement does mandatory yearly checks on tobacco sellers — at least the ones registered with the county — to ensure age rules are being enforced. But Carver County Sheriff Jason Kamerud said those compliance checks haven’t started yet for 2020.
He said until the state adopts the new federal age requirement, there will be confusion.
“Until the Minnesota Legislature makes some changes, we’ll still have that mixture,” Kamerud said.
“It’s a starting point, not a cure-all,” he said about the federal law. “I don’t believe they assume it would solve the problem. It’s really kind of a start that will allow, and perhaps even persuade or encourage, state by state to make that decision.”
Officials involved in the tobacco conversation agree.
Laura Smith, spokesperson for ClearWay Minnesota, said she thinks communication on a national level was substandard or nonexistent.
“It’s challenging for retailers and lawmakers, even for public health communicators,” Smith said, noting how many people simply aren’t sure what the change is.
Enforcement happens at the federal, state and local levels, Smith said. Right now, enforcement for the above-21 law is only seen nationally.
Until states enact a 21-and-above age law, the rules around who can buy tobacco in Minnesota will remain convoluted.
“We’re still asking (state) lawmakers to pass a strong tobacco 21 bill to make sure everybody knows it’s the age,” Smith said. “We can make it clear that this is happening and in effect.”
Smith said larger chains like Holiday or bigger grocery stores received word from their national, corporate leaders. That might explain why those stores have signage at the counter that reflects the new 21+ law (free digital age verification calendars are available to businesses at the Center for Tobacco Product’s Exchange Lab’s website).
But some retailers, especially smaller smoke shops, are waiting for instruction to change the law — instruction they simply might not get.
“While they might take a couple of months to figure out enforcement, the age was immediately changed,” Smith said.
Sheriff Kamerud said Carver County law enforcement hasn’t directed any retailers to abide by the new federal law. So if sellers aren’t getting word at a federal level, they could be unknowingly breaking federal law.
Signs outside the Chaska Smoke Shop still state, “Under 18 No Tobacco: We Card,” but bigger stores like Holiday have signs recognizing the federal 21+ law.
ClearWay Minnesota put forth a “Tobacco 21” bill that passed in the House’s health budget in 2019, but didn’t make the same progress in the Senate.
“We’re talking to lawmakers to encourage them to get it done quickly to provide the clarity that is needed, but also make sure we have resources,” Smith said.
Those resources include a public database of which compliance checks are already being done and making sure retailers have clear signage modeling the federal law.
“21 isn’t a silver bullet,” Smith said. “We need wraparound policies.”
Setting higher fines for retailers when they break the law and prohibiting flavored tobacco products are a part of that. Current fines are anywhere between $250 and $754 for licensers who violate the law in Minnesota. With a statewide Tobacco 21 bill, those numbers would raise to anywhere between $300 and $1,000, Smith said.
As of Feb. 4, the Food and Drug Administration will ban most fruit- and mint-flavored nicotine vaping products, to try and curb use by youth.
ClearWay is speaking with legislators to hopefully change Minnesota’s law to restrict tobacco to those 21 and up, maybe even restricting flavored tobacco. It’s a move they want passed in both the Minnesota House and Senate early in the session, which starts mid-February.
Nineteen states have statewide laws that raised the age of tobacco sales to 21-year-olds or older. The first was Hawaii in 2016 and the most recent was Pennsylvania, which will enact the law in July 2020.
Why did they do this? Smith said the answer is simple.
Nicotine is addictive and can harm the adolescent brain, she said. Almost 95% of addicted adult smokers started before turning 21, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
By raising the tobacco age to 21, around a quarter of 15- to 17-year-olds would stop smoking, the National Academy of Medicine suggests.
Boe said Tobacco 21 talked to Chaska City Council in 2018, but no change occurred.
“They were frequently told, ‘Well you need to do it at a higher level.’ If you only ban tobacco for under 21 in Carver County, for example, people will just drive to Hennepin County or Eden Prairie,” Boe said.
Though both Smith and Boe said it’s a great start to have a federal law change, enacting it on a state level will make all the difference.
“It’s a good step. It’s a great kind of historic move to help protect kids from nicotine addiction, but we need to do so much more,” Smith said.