St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda is asking priests in Minnesota to forgo voting in the presidential primary election on Tuesday over concerns about the privacy of voter party preferences.
Hebda wrote about his concerns in a letter to priests this week ahead of Super Tuesday on March 3, the first presidential primary in Minnesota in nearly 30 years. Under the new system, voters must request the party ballot they want — either Democratic or Republican — and that preference is recorded and sent to the chairs of all four majority political parties in the state.
There are no specifications in law about what the parties can — or cannot — do with that data. "It could be seen as 'partisan' political activity to align oneself with a party and to vote in its primary, which the Church generally discourages clergy from doing for evangelical reasons, more so than tax ones," read Hebda's letter to clergy.
It's not the first complaint from faith groups about the new system, which also requires voters to pledge "general agreement with the principles of the party" whose ballot they pick. Members of the Bahá'í Faith have told lawmakers that pledging support to a political party is a violation of their religion.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference advised bishops that asking priests to abstain from voting was in their legal purview.
"Counseling the avoidance of partisan political activity helps ensure that the priest retains an identity as a credible witness of the Gospel," MCC Executive Director Jason Adkins said in a statement. "Especially in light of the political polarization and identity politics of today, the ability of a priest to form consciences for faithful citizenship depends, in part, on his ability to transcend the partisan divide and not have his catechesis tainted by the suspicion of partisanship."
Adkins added that priests he's spoken to were grateful for the guidance.
Minnesota lawmakers switched from a caucus system to a primary after long lines frustrated voters in 2016.
Legislators are considering several proposals to limit who can see the data and how it can be used, but an agreement before voters head out to the polls on Tuesday is unlikely.
"If the law were different and protected privacy, maybe the calculus would change," read Hebda's letter.