Minnesota putting asterisk on Iowa first-in-the-nation claim

Starting today, Minnesotans can vote absentee for the March 3 primary, but Iowa's caucus votes will be announced first

Jack Cameron collects Iowa caucus votes Jan. 3, 2012, at the Coralville Marriott. Feb. 3 is the date of the Iowa caucuse
Jack Cameron collects Iowa caucus votes Jan. 3, 2012, at the Coralville Marriott. Feb. 3 is the date of the Iowa caucuses in this election cycle. (Gazette file photo)

Iowa lays claim to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, but the first vote for the Democratic and Republican nominees will be cast somewhere in Minnesota today.

Thanks to Minnesota’s generous early voting law, voters can begin casting absentee ballots 46 days ahead of the state’s March 3 primary. That’s today, Jan. 17 — 17 days before Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses. So whichever Minnesotan mails in a ballot first will, in fact, be the first vote to count anywhere in the country.

But it won’t be the first voted counted, the chairmen of Iowa’s Democratic and Republican parties are quick to point out.

Iowa reports results first

A Minnesotan — or several Minnesotans — may claim to cast that first ballot, “but our votes will be the first ones reported,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said Thursday. The results of Iowa’s precinct caucuses will be known Feb. 3 — or maybe the wee hours of Feb. 4.

That means Iowa remains first in the nation because “it will be our voters’ results, the wishes of our voters, that will be the first ones reported,” Price said.

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said it goes without saying how strongly he feels about Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status, “but surprisingly, I’m not bothered by that.”

“I’m concerned about when the votes are counted, when it becomes public,” Kaufmann said. “As long as Minnesota doesn’t open those ballots, doesn’t count those ballots, and more importantly, doesn’t make those ballots public until after the four carve-out states, I’m OK with that.”

In addition to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are the first states to make known their choices for presidential nominees. The next round of primaries will be Super Tuesday — March 3.

Minnesota touts first in the nation

Although the results of early voting in Minnesota won’t be known until after March 3, Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin has been using the first-in-the-nation term to describe his state’s primary.


“Minnesota is the very first state, and I don’t think the presidentials were tracking this until late summer, early fall,” Martin told “We were at a meeting in San Francisco, and I mentioned this to many of the campaigns and their eyes bugged out. I don’t think they realized our early vote requirements put us first in the nation.”

Minnesota ballot choices

Minnesota Democrats will have 15 choices on their ballot — 16 if you count a line for “uncommitted” — Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Deval Patrick, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.

If any candidates withdraw or suspend their campaigns — as Booker, Castro and Williamson have done — before March 3, voters can “claw back” their mail-in ballots until a week before the primary.

Minnesota Republicans’ winner-take-all primary will have two lines — one for President Donald Trump and another for write-ins.

Just as in Iowa, a candidate must get the backing of at least 15 percent of the primary vote to qualify for delegates. Those who clear that bar will divvy up Minnesota’s 92 pledged delegates to the national convention in Milwaukee in mid-July.

Super Tuesday clout

Although Minnesota can’t claim first-in-the-nation status, being among the 14 states casting ballots on Super Tuesday gives it more clout collectively than voters in Iowa and the other early states.

California, Texas, Massachusetts, Virginia and Colorado are among the Super Tuesday states that together will select 34 percent of the delegates to the Democratic Party’s national convention. In contrast, the four early states will collectively award 4 percent of the delegates.

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