Olmsted County latest to be sued for ballot-board stacking

Local officials, blessed by an “administrative rule” cooked up by Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon, have stacked their ballot boards with local bureaucrats who do not reveal their party affiliation.

Secretary of State Steve Simon. (Steve Simon/Twitter)

The center-right group the Minnesota Voters Alliance has launched yet another lawsuit, this time against Olmsted County, where Rochester is the largest city.

MVA has already sued Minneapolis, Ramsey County, and Duluth over the same issue. Specifically, a Minnesota law passed in 2011 requires that absentee ballot boards – tasked with accepting or rejecting absentee ballots  – have both Republicans and Democrats as members, drawn from party lists supplied by local party officials.

Yet local officials, blessed by an “administrative rule” cooked up by Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon, have stacked their ballot boards with local bureaucrats who do not reveal their party affiliation. Republicans worry this means local boards are purposefully being composed of only Democrats.

According to the MVA suit and persons familiar with the matter, it isn’t as if the local election boards are unable to get any Republicans to act as election judges. To the contrary, GOP party officials aren’t even asked to supply lists of willing election judges – a move by cities and counties that appears to be in direct contravention of the law.

“For years, Olmsted County, which handles the elections for the City of Rochester, 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 MVA explained 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.” 

Simon’s administrative rule faces a challenge in a separate lawsuit

All of these cases are asking for a Writ of Mandamus, which in plain English is a request that the court force local officials to follow the law. Already, the judge in the Ramsey County case has issued an “Alternate Writ of Mandamus,” which asks Ramsey County to explain its actions. The hearing on this matter is set for Aug. 7.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Minnesota believe that absentee ballots will be critical in determining the outcome of the 2020 election, since the number of absentee ballots cast could rise sharply compared to prior election years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

State Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, and the Minnesota Republican Party have joined the MVA as plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit. 

“The government has an obligation to the people of Minnesota to make sure the election process is lawful, trustworthy, transparent, and beyond reproach. Olmsted County simply must obey the law,” said attorney Erick Kaardal, who is working with the MVA on the case.