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Minnesota Supreme Court dismisses residency claim against Sen. Gene Dornink

The court concluded that petitioners did not file their grievance quickly enough to meet requirements.

Sen. Gene Dornink
Sen. Gene Dornink.
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ST. PAUL — Gene Dornink remains on the ballot for the Minnesota Senate District 23 Republican primary race Tuesday. And all votes for Dornink will count.

So ruled the Minnesota Supreme Court late Friday, days before the primary race between Dornink, a resident of Brownsdale, and challenger Lisa Hanson of Hayward.

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On July 28, 2022, Judy Kay Olson petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court, asking that the court order Secretary of State Steve Simon and county auditors in the five counties that contain all or part of the new Senate District 23 to remove Dornink's name from the primary ballots. The petition claimed that Dornink did not reside within the district at least six months in advance of the Nov. 8, 2022, general election, which is required by statute.

Dornink, who currently serves in the Minnesota Senate, representing District 27, found himself moved into a newly created District 24 facing Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester. In order to avoid running against another sitting GOP senator, Dornink told news media he planned to move to the new District 23. On May 24, he filed listing an address in Brownsdale.

Dornink and his wife had previously lived in Hayfield.

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As part of the petition, Olson claimed that she and investigators had visited both Dornink's home in Hayfield and the new home in Brownsdale several times between May 8, 2022, and July 15, 2022. From their visits, they concluded that Dornink did not live in Brownsdale as he claimed.

However, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea dismissed the claim, mainly on the grounds that laches — an unreasonable delay in making an assertion or claim — applied to the case.

"Olson filed her petition 65 days after Dornink filed his affidavit of candidacy, 35 days after absentee voting began for the primary, and 12 days before the date of the primary," Gildea wrote. "We have acknowledged that 'some' delay in filing a petition challenging a candidate’s residency 'may be excused' because the challenger needs to know more than where the candidate claims to be residing and instead needs to investigate and gather evidence to prove that the candidate is not residing in the district.

"The record here, however, indicates that Olson did not act expeditiously or diligently in conducting her investigation," Gildea wrote.

A statement from the Dornink campaign said Dornink established residency in Brownsdale in May.

"I'm grateful the court dismissed this baseless case so quickly," Dornink said in an emailed statement. "I appreciate the support from so many who reached out to me through this process. I will continue running a positive, issue-oriented campaign. I look forward to winning the Primary this Tuesday and the General Election in November."

The winner of the primary Tuesday between Dornink and Hanson will face off against DFL candidate Brandon Lawhead of Austin on Nov. 8, 2022.

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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