Effort to Increase Turnout in City Elections Rejected: Petitioner Takes St. Paul to Court

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A petition drive to put the question of moving St. Paul’s municipal elections to even years came up short, but that does not mean the fight is over.

The Pioneer Press reports that Peter Butler’s efforts to move the city’s election from odd years to even years fell short due to a large number of the signatures he collected being thrown out. Butler says he submitted 7,675 signatures to Ramsey County on July 7. He was required to have 7,011, or five percent of the city’s voting totals in the 2016 general election. However, 1,809 of the signatures were thrown out by the county. He was left with 5,866 validated signatures.

However Butler alleges that a large number of the signatures thrown out where done so unlawfully. As such, he has filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Paul, City Clerk Shari Moore, and Ramsey County Elections Manager Joseph Mansky.

“Respondents invalidated a significant number of signatures for technical difficulties that should have been valid and, thus, counted toward the total signatures required for certification,” reads the lawsuit. “The Minnesota Supreme Court has recognized that petitions should be reviewed under a more lenient standard.”

In correspondence with Butler, Mansky did not initially explain why certain signatures had been deemed invalid. He merely repeated the total number of signatures deemed valid, and told Butler he had 10 days to submit additional signatures.

Butler’s lawsuit alleges that signatures were thrown out for a number of improper reasons. Some of people who signed his petition listed their address when they signed, but had moved by the time Butler submitted the petition. Others put “ditto” marks for their address when they were of the same household as the previous signator.

Butler also says the signatures of people who refused to give their birthdate, or gave their age in years instead, were also thrown out. Nothing in the law requires this information in order to validate a signature though.

The proposed change in St. Paul’s election years is designed to increase voter turnout by pairing the elections with the higher profile statewide races.