On July 15, the Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA), the Minnesota GOP, State Senate Candidate Donna Bergstrom, and several election judges filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus asking the St. Louis County District Court to order the City of Duluth to follow the law for appointing members to the absentee ballot review board for this November's elections.
A similar lawsuit was filed on July 2 against the City of Minneapolis. Like Minneapolis, Duluth has used city clerk employees for years to do the critical function of examining absentee ballot envelopes and deciding which ones are to be rejected and which are accepted.
Minnesota law, however, requires the ballot board to be comprised of election judges from lists submitted by the major political parties. The petition contends that both cities ignore the law, use insiders to accept and reject ballots, and avoid any outside scrutiny over its handling of mailed-in ballots.
In an article published by AlphaNews on June 25, Willis Krumholz wrote that Minnesota’s Democratic Secretary of State, Steven Simon, essentially removed the requirement for “party balance” through a rule change to the statute that allows appointed bureaucrats to do the accepting and rejecting behind closed doors.
MNGOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan stated, “Steve Simon’s policies have enabled jurisdictions throughout the state to do much the same as Duluth. As the state’s chief election official, he bears major responsibility for this systemic failure to protect mail-in ballots from potential mistreatment.”
Shortly after the highly contested recount in 2010 between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, a race in which 300,000 absentee ballots were cast and 12,000 were rejected, the legislature passed a law to ensure impartiality. It required that election judges reviewing each absentee ballot envelope must be of different major political parties (party balance).
The law was passed by an almost unanimous vote of 131-2 in the House, and 63-0 in the Senate, and signed by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty.
In 2013, the legislature expressly eliminated the provision in that law which had allowed city or county staff to serve on the absentee ballot board along with election judges.
Using a balanced number of election judges that are affiliated with different political parties ensures that any one-sided biases in rejecting ballots will be reduced. Further, if there is mishandling of ballot envelopes by one party, election judges from another major political party will be aware of it and can expose the irregularities they have seen up close.
Willis Krumholz, in the June 25 AlphaNews article, argued that ballot boards will be critically important in Minnesota in 2020. He quotes MVA as projecting that there will likely be over one million absentee ballots cast this November, and many of them “will be accepted or rejected by unlawfully appointed partisan bureaucrats, without regard” to the law’s party balance rules.
“Already, a system of loopholes allows voters who have their voter-registration “challenged” by authorities, meaning they are probably ineligible to vote, still vote absentee and have their ballot counted.” In the 2016 election alone, Minnesota had 26,000 votes cast where the voter had a “challenged” voter-status.
According to the Minnesota Voter’s Alliance (MVA), Simon’s rule “has effectively eliminated election judges from being able to perform the primary duties of the ballot boards, namely, accepting and rejecting absentee ballots, by subtly creating an exemption that doesn’t exist in the law.”
MVA continues: “In fact, the legislature rejected a similar exemption in 2009 and again in 2013 that would have allowed city or county staff to do the accepting and rejecting of absentee ballots. But that did not stop Secretary of State Simon from going around the legislature.”
“The government has an obligation to the people of Minnesota to make sure the election process is lawful, trustworthy, transparent, and beyond reproach. Duluth simply must obey the law,” said attorney Erick Kaardal.