October 17, 2016

Minnesota 2016 Primary Election Recap and General Election Preview

On August 9, Minnesota held its 2016 primary elections, and November 8 is 2016 general election day. In addition to the presidential race, all eight of Minnesota’s congressional districts and all 201 seats in the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives are up for election. The U.S. Senate seats and Governor are not on the ballot this year.

Primary Election Recap

Fewer than 300,000 Minnesotans, or approximately 7 percent of eligible voters, went to the polls on primary election day. This is reported as being the lowest voter turnout since the primary election of 1950. The following races were some of the most watched:

In Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, four Republicans were vying for a spot to run in this open seat. Jason Lewis, a conservative radio talk show host, easily won by capturing nearly 49 percent of the votes cast. He faces DFL-endorsed candidate Angie Craig in the general election. 

Four incumbent Minnesota legislators lost to primary challengers:

  • Republican Senator Sean Nienow lost to Mike Koran in Senate District 32
  • In House District 31B, Republican Representative Tom Hackbarth was defeated by Cal Bahr
  • DFL Representative Joe Mullery was unseated by Fue Lee in House District 59A
  • Long-serving DFL Representative Phyllis Kahn lost to Ilhan Omar in House District 60B

General Election

Historically in Minnesota, presidential election years have favored DFLers because of higher voter turnout. However, this is not a normal year, and no one can be certain what effect two unpopular presidential candidates will have on voter turnout.

Currently, there are 13 open seats in the Senate. The DFL is looking to maintain control of the Senate. Senate Republicans would have to flip six seats to take control. The GOP is hoping to defend its majority in the House where there are 17 open districts. The DFL would have to flip seven seats to take control of the House.

Early Voting

In-person absentee voting in Minnesota began on September 23 and goes through November 7. On September 23, nearly 27,000 Minnesotans registered to vote. In 2014, 200,000 Minnesotans cast an absentee ballot. On September 29, Secretary of State Steve Simon reported that 100,000 Minnesotans had already sent in their absentee ballots. 

Legislative Races

For the first time since 2004, there is no statewide race, other than the Presidential race, at the top of the ticket. This has led Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate with the challenging task of making sure voters go to the polls on November 8. Both sides have already spent thousands of dollars on campaign direct mail, television and radio advertisements, as well as social media advertising, to try and sway voters to support their candidates. Republicans are campaigning that they are a check on the Democratic-controlled Senate and Governor Mark Dayton. Meanwhile, Democrats are campaigning on their legislative achievements under complete DFL control during 2013-14.

The team at Faegre Baker Daniels has spent the summer and fall meeting with incumbents and candidates to hear first-hand how the campaign is going and what issues they are hearing in their districts. Control of the Legislature will likely be decided by about 25 races across the state. Historically, Minnesota leads the country in voter turnout in presidential years. Given the historic unpopularity of both presidential candidates, turnout remains uncertain, and some experts are forecasting a lower level of Minnesotans casting their ballot. This year’s control of the Minnesota Legislature is likely to be decided by a few thousand votes. Both parties are working to turn out their base. However, it in unsure how early voting and the presidential ticket will change the make-up of the electorate.

In September, FaegreBD hosted Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen to discuss the election. All four leaders were optimistic about their chances in November and agreed that this election, more so than others, will be determined by who turns out to vote.

Rich Forschler (right) of Faegre Baker Daniels moderates a discussion among the legislative leaders in September. From left are Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and House Speaker Kurt Daudt.

Constitutional Amendment

One of the least talked about issues in this election is the constitutional amendment on the ballot this year. Minnesota legislators passed a measure in 2013 to place a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot giving the power to set lawmakers’ salaries to a 16-member independent council. Constitutional amendments in Minnesota must receive a majority vote of all ballots cast.

The last time Minnesota lawmakers had a pay increase was in 1999. They are currently paid a yearly salary of $31,140. The salary council would have the power to both increase and decrease the salaries. About 20other states have an independent council setting legislative salaries.

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