Minnesota DFL Party: We're not disenfranchising Bernie Sanders voters

Bernie Sanders will need big turnout in south Minneapolis ... provided they can all fit in the building.

Bernie Sanders will need big turnout in south Minneapolis ... provided they can all fit in the building.

Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin is a Hillary Clinton supporter. But Martin says he wants the former Secretary of State and First Lady – and current Democratic presidential frontrunner – to win the White House fair and square.

Monday morning, City Pages brought you the story of a potentially packed-to-the-gills voting space in Senate District 62, a south Minneapolis borough that progressives would see as a rich vein for delivering votes to U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. In a blog post penned last week, liberal DFL activist Soren Sorensen said five precinct caucuses would be jammed into the Whittier Recreation Center Gym.

That space couldn't contain its many eager Democratic participants back in 2008, when now-President Barack Obama was rising against Clinton, and Sorensen expected more of the same come March 1, when Minnesota plays its part in Super Tuesday.

"The facility won't be big enough," Sorensen says, "and I'm afraid [Bernie Sanders'] supporters will be affected the most."

By lunchtime Monday, Ken Martin had officially responded, trying to quell any sense of intentional misdeeds to harm the Sanders campaign. In the state Democratic Party chairman's version of events, any potential problems in south Minneapolis are circumstantial rather than nefarious.

Senate District 62 DFL Party chair Rick Stafford, charged with organizing that district's precinct caucuses, had fallen ill in late 2015, Martin says, and missed the November 16 deadline for securing a location for caucusing on the first day in March. The local political unit then moved to appoint a new leader, Ryan Earp, who took over on January 19, and then had to move quickly to find a place for DFL die-hards to pick their presidential favorite. 

Ken Martin is backing Hillary, but says the party's not doing anything to help her win.

Ken Martin is backing Hillary, but says the party's not doing anything to help her win.

"Thanks to Ryan’s good work, the Senate District was able to fulfill its obligation and find locations for the SD 62 precinct caucuses," Martin said.

The DFL unit obtained access to not just the Whitter International School's gymnasium, but its entire facility, according to an email Martin shared with City Pages. Caucus-goers, who could easily number in the thousands, will be funneled through the gym to register and name their preferred candidate, and then break out into individual classrooms to caucus based on their local precincts. 

In response to Sorenson's concern, the Minnesota DFL Party also paid for the rights to another location just for Stevens Square, the Franklin Avenue-area neighborhood that ranks among the most densely populated parcels in the Twin Cities urban area. (It's also one of the youngest neighborhoods, based on census data, making it prime  Bernie Sanders territory:  A recent survey from Public Policy Polling finds Hillary Clinton's biggest advantage over Sanders falls in the 65-plus demographic.)

"We will continue working closely with the new Senate District leadership to ensure a smooth process at precinct caucuses on March 1 so that all people who want to participate can do so," Martin says.

Sorensen remains only partially convinced, writing yesterday that he's still worried the cramped co-locations of heavily populated – and strongly DFL-leaning – precincts could hamper voting for people with "limited mobility or limited budgets," referring to the kind of voter who might not have all night to wait around just to get their voice heard.

If Clinton's razor-thin margin in the Iowa Caucus is any indication, both Democrats will need every caucus pledge they can get.