Group sues Ramsey County for ballot-board stacking

Absentee ballot boards - including in Duluth and Minneapolis - have been stacked with city insiders, bureaucrats, and other hand-picked persons who operate behind closed doors and don’t have to reveal their political affiliation, according to the MVA. 

The Minnesota Voters Alliance has sued another Minnesota county for its failure to comply with a law requiring absentee ballot boards to have both Democratic and Republican members. 

Absentee ballot boards – including in Duluth and Minneapolis – have been stacked with city insiders, bureaucrats, and other hand-picked persons who operate behind closed doors and don’t have to reveal their political affiliation, according to the MVA. 

The MVA announced Thursday that it is suing Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul, over the same issue. 

“Ramsey County has used county employees to do the critical function of examining absentee ballot envelopes and deciding which ones are to be rejected and which are accepted,” the group said in a press release. “The county simply ignores the law, uses insiders to accept and reject ballots, and avoids any outside scrutiny over its handling of mail-in ballots.”

The MVA also indicated that Olmsted County, home of Rochester, was next to receive legal attention over ballot-board practices.

At issue is a 2010 Minnesota law that was passed after the controversial election matchup between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, in which the validity of absentee ballots was hotly contested. The law, 203B.121, requires that ballot boards examining, accepting, and rejecting absentee ballots be made up of both Republicans and Democrats, drawn from party lists supplied by local party officials.

Yet municipalities have ignored this law, and Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon has written an “administrative rule” that seeks to invalidate the “party balance” rule contained in 203B.121, passed by the elected Legislature. Simon’s administrative rule effectively provides a loophole for officials who do not want to follow the party balance rule by allowing these local officials to stack ballot boards with city employees. 

In an effort to strike down the rule, the MVA has sued Simon in a separate lawsuit.

Dan McGrath, a candidate for county commissioner in Ramsey County, and the Minnesota Republican Party have joined the MVA as plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit. 

“I don’t know what makes some bureaucrats think they can ignore the statutes and make up their own rules,” McGrath said in a statement. “A clean election process that follows the law with citizen oversight and transparency is crucial for voter confidence in the outcomes.”

The lawsuit against Ramsey County seeks a Writ of Mandamus, which asks the Ramsey County District Court to order the county to follow the laws for appointing members to the absentee ballot review board for this November’s elections. 

Ramsey District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan executed an “Alternative Writ of Mandamus” against Ramsey County Monday, compelling the county to show cause as to why it should not be required to comply with the petitioners’ writ. A special term of the court has been scheduled for August 7 to hear oral arguments.

Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said Simon’s “misguided policies have enabled jurisdictions throughout the state to do much the same as Ramsey County.”  

“As the state’s chief election official, Simon bears major responsibility for this systemic failure to protect mail-in ballots from potential mistreatment,” she added. 

MVA filed a suit against Minneapolis earlier this month, and followed up with a suit against Duluth.