Down-ballot Issues Trump Top-of-ballot Races

Presidential candidates have all but ignored Minnesota.

The U.S. Senate race has been a snoozer, as have some U.S. House races.

But get down the ballot a ways and two proposed constitutional amendments have generated plenty of sparks. And perhaps the most important decision to be made by Minnesota voters Tuesday is what party controls the state Legislature.

In many ways, Tuesday’s election will be topsy-turvy with votes lower on the ballot trumping those that normally get the most attention.

Nothing shows that better than the proposed amendment to define marriage as only between one man and one woman. The two sides have raised a combined total of more than $16 million, by far the priciest constitutional amendment campaign in state history and the most expensive Minnesota campaign this year.

At the other extreme, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills had $68,000 in the bank when the final pre-election finance report came out, a pittance compared to Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s $4.8 million. The Senate race normally is high profile, but there has been little public activity this year.

Regardless of the attention and money, or lack thereof, at the top of the ballot, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicts the state again will have voter turnout of about 78 percent, retaining its status as the country’s best-voting state.

In some rural precincts, 90 percent of eligible voters show up on Election Day.

“Minnesotans vote,” Ritchie said. “They are proud of it.”

Those Minnesotans will face a long ballot Tuesday because every one of 201 state Legislature seats is on the ballot, something that occurs just once every 10 years after district lines are redrawn to accommodate new census figures.

All eight Minnesota U.S. House seats are up for election every two years. And there are plenty of decisions to be made about local races.

The major offices not on the ballot include governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor. Also, U.S. Sen. Al Franken is not up for re-election until 2014.

“A huge percentage of Minnesota elective officials are on the ballot,” Ritchie said, which when added to national presidential race publicity should make for a busy Tuesday at the state’s 4,102 polling places.

Every ballot in every precinct will include state House and Senate races.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and a Republican-controlled Legislature have battled, and often stalled, the past two years. Democrats say that putting them in control would make for a smoother government, but Republicans say a liberal governor needs to be checked.

Dayton said the choice before voters comes down to “gridlock versus progress.”

“Over the last two years, a Republican-controlled Legislature has made it clear they are not interested in compromising and they are promising the same approach if they remain in charge,” Dayton said.

But as he knocks on doors around the state with Republican candidates, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said that he is hearing more and more support for his party’s jobs and economy message.

“We have a positive message,” Zellers said, adding that Democrats show a negative side.

Who controls the Legislature is important because the majority party can dictate what issues are debated and usually can pass whatever bills it wants.

A close division between the parties is predicted in both the House and Senate, with about 20 races being watched closely.

Republicans hold 72 seats in the 134-member House. The GOP gained control of the Senate two years ago, for the first time in 38 years, with 37 of the chamber’s 67 members.

Newly drawn legislative district lines left a quarter of the districts without incumbents, threw some lawmakers together and convinced others it was time to leave. No matter what happens, a large percentage of state legislators will be new next year.

The 2013 Legislature is to convene Jan. 8.

Unlike four years ago, major presidential campaigns early on decided that President Barack Obama likely would win Minnesota and largely avoided the state in 2012. That began to change in the campaign’s closing days, with a few big-name visits.


Some key facts about Tuesday’s Minnesota election:

— Most polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., but some rural precinct hours vary and a few precincts conduct elections only by mail.

— Minnesotans who have not registered still can register at the polls on Election Day by showing a valid photo ID such as a driver’s license or tribal identification card, or another photo ID (even expired) with a proof of residence (such as a utility bill).

— In candidate races, the person with the most votes wins, even if he receives fewer than half of those cast in the race.

— For a constitutional amendment to pass, it must receive more than half of the total votes cast, not just those voting on an amendment. Any ballot without an amendment vote is counted as a vote against the amendment.

— The federally required redrawing of political district maps means some voters will be in new districts and may have new polling places.

— More voter information, including location of polling places and a personalized ballot, is available at


A brief look at state and congressional district races and questions on the Nov. 6 ballot:

President: With Minnesota polls showing President Barack Obama in the lead most of this year, he and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have spent little time or money here. They also have spent little time discussing issues of specific interest to rural Minnesota. Ten presidential candidates’ names will be on the Minnesota ballot.

U.S. Senate: U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, has maintained large leads in polls as she ends her first six-year term. Republican challenger Kurt Bills, a one-term state House member and an economics teacher, has had little money to compete. Tim Davis of the Grassroots Party is a disabled and retired blue-collar worker who ran for U.S. House in 1988 and 2002. Michael Cavlan, who will be listed as a Minnesota Open Progressives member on the ballot, is a nurse running against Klobuchar for the second straight election.

1st Congressional District: Longtime Republican activist Allen Quist won a hard-fought party primary election. Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz has been in the U.S. House since 2007 after military and teaching careers.

2nd Congressional District: Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline is chairman of the House education and labor committee, one of the most powerful in the House. Democrat Mike Obermueller served one term in the state House before losing in his second election.

3rd Congressional District: Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen served in the state House, including as majority leader, before being elected to Congress in 2008. Democrat Brian Barnes was a business manager and is a Navy Reserve veteran.

4th Congressional District: Republican Tony Hernandez, who worked for a bank, decided to run after recovering from massive injuries sustained when a man threw a rock off an overpass onto his car on the freeway below. Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum served in the Minnesota House before being elected to the U.S. House in 2000. The Independence Party’s Steve Carlson is a writer and consultant.

5th Congressional District: Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress, has been congressman since 2007, after serving in the state House. Republican challenger Chris Fields is a 21-year Marine veteran and South Bronx native.

6th Congressional District: Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, in office since 2007, ran for president before dropping out of the race earlier this year. Democratic challenger Jim Graves, a one-time professional singer, founded AmericInn motels and operates a hotel and restaurant company.

7th Congressional District: Collin Peterson is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and has been in Congress since 1991. Republican Lee Byberg, making his second run at Peterson, is a businessman who was raised in Brazil, Paraguay and Norway by Christian missionary parents. The Independence Party’s Adam Steele lives in Bemidji and said that he is running to “either bring constitutional justice to northern Minnesota, or, alternatively, if the state cannot follow the highest law of the land, then to insist that Minnesota be expelled from the United States.”

8th Congressional District: Republican Chip Cravaack upset longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar two years ago in a race that gained national attention. Democratic challenger Rick Nolan is returning to politics after serving three terms in the U.S. House more than 30 years ago.

Supreme Court: Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea is challenged by Dan Griffith, Justice Barry Anderson by Dean Barkley and Justice David Stras by Tim Tingelstad.

Constitutional amendments: Voters will be asked to decide whether to amend the state Constitution to define a marriage as only between a man and a woman and whether to require voters to produce photo IDs before casting ballots.

Legislature: All 201 House and Senate seats will be up for election.