Rochester staffed 721 election judges on Nov. 8, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans by narrow margin
Shifts at 46 Rochester polling locations saw 55% of party-affiliated judges signing in as Democrats.
ROCHESTER — The removal of three Rochester election judges weeks before the Nov. 8 election didn’t leave polls without a mix of party representatives.
Christiaan Cartwright, Rochester’s license examiner, who also oversees the city’s list of election judges, said it’s not uncommon for judges’ assignments to shift leading into an election.
“Days before, people drop out, so we have to shift people around,” he said, pointing out the city kept a small “to be determined” slate of unassigned judges to fill any last-minute gaps.
Selection and assignment of judges starts with contacting the approximately 2,500 potential judges on the city’s roster of trained poll workers.
“We have a substantial number of people that come back for every election,” Rochester City Clerk Kelly Geistler said.
The Nov. 8 election had 721 judges sign up to fill a total of 1,829 shifts, with many of the judges working three shifts, covering a combined 15 hours or more.
While declared Democrats and Republicans on the larger call list are split 60-40, Cartwright said the goal is to get an even better balance when assigning available judges to one of the city’s current 46 polling locations.
A look at who actually worked on Nov. 8 shows 47.8% of the election-judge shifts were filled by Democrats and 38.7% were filled by Republicans, with 13.3% filled by people who claimed no affiliation of a major political party and a single judge from the Legal Marijuana Now Party filling three shifts at Autumn Ridge Church.
When judges connected to the two largest parties are compared, the split was 55% Democrats to 45% Republicans.
Cartwright said all Republicans on the city’s list of available judges were assigned a shift prior to three being pulled at the request of the Olmsted County Attorney’s Office and the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.
If those three judged had not been removed and were signed up to fill three shifts apiece, they would have boosted the Republican share of the judges by less than one-third of a percentage point.
Cartwright confirmed Frederick Nolting and Margaret Sherman were pulled from eligibility on Oct. 11, after the county attorney’s office cited concerns, and Roger Mueller was pulled in response to a state request.
The Rochester Police Department has reported an investigation was started based on the county attorney’s concerns, but Cartwright said Mueller is not being investigated.
The three election judges are connected to the Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group , which is led by Mueller, but other members of the group served as judges on Nov. 8.
The police investigation reportedly stems from a request the elections integrity group sent to election judges, asking for them to gather information at polling places, but the Rochester Police Department has not released details of what is being investigated.
The Post Bulletin has requested additional information regarding the police investigation.
When contacted after the investigation was revealed, Mueller declined comment, saying he would prefer to wait until more details are available.
Members of the local group have filed their own election complaints regarding election judges working during the August primary elections.
Mueller said he witnessed a head judge violate protocol by failing to have two people help a voter with filling out a ballot, and he said the group filed another complaint aimed at a judge they say has routinely changed political affiliation.
The Olmsted County Attorney’s Office has said it cannot comment on ongoing investigations, but Geistler said the election judge accused of shifting parties has registered as a member of the same party when working for the city.
Poll workers are required to state a party affiliation, or lack of affiliation, when they take an oath as an election judge.
“They have to sign an oath, and if they are lying, that’s an issue for the Secretary of State,” Geistler said, adding that the declarations help balance assignments as much as possible, even though some flexibility exists.
Cartwright said the goal is to get an even split among party-affiliated judges at a polling place, but it’s not required by state statute.
The state requires at least two people from separate parties be available at a polling place to help with curbside voting and other tasks that could be considered sensitive. The goal is to have the two judges ensure nothing is being done to help one party over another.
“We had a fair amount of both Republicans and Democrats at all polling locations,” Cartwright said, pointing out at least two Democrats and two Republicans were working at all Rochester polling locations throughout the day.
“The way Rochester has done it, we try to have multiples of each party, just so that one person isn’t doing everything,” he added.
Non-affiliated judges are not allowed to do work that requires two members of differing parties.
Rochester splits election judge assignments into three shifts between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., with individual judges deciding whether they want to work one, two or three shifts.
Of the city’s 46 polling locations, four had an even match of Republican- and Democrat-assigned shifts, even though each party outnumbered the other at some point during the day.
Five of the city’s polling locations saw Republicans outnumber Democrats, and the remainder saw more Democrats than Republicans on most shifts, while ensuring at least two Republicans were staffed at even the smallest polling location in the city.
Cartwright said the city also seeks to ensure each location has a head judge from the two dominant political parties, when they are available.
“We have to have a balance, or at least the best we can make happen,” Giestler confirmed.
Post Bulletin Public Safety Reporter Mark Wasson contributed to this report.