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Andy Cilek: Supreme Court will decide: Should ballot boards be party-balanced?

Case is underway, with oral arguments to come.

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Minnesota Voters Alliance

Readers may remember a Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA) lawsuit last summer against Olmsted and Ramsey counties for stacking their absentee ballot boards with partisan government insiders instead of appointing election judges to accept and reject absentee ballots.

MVA's co-plaintiffs in this case are the Republican Party of Minnesota, State Rep. Duane Quam, and several election judges from Olmsted County.

Although the Court of Appeals ruled against MVA last summer, MVA appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court because, in our view, the court opinion was flawed. The Supreme Court has chosen to weigh in, as it granted review.

Our electoral process is supposed to be fair for everyone, regardless of party affiliation, and this case focuses on how the process has been grossly exploited in Minnesota by shutting out party-balanced election judges from absentee ballot boards. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (DFL) filed an amicus brief in the case, and in it he refers to party-balanced election judges as “unnecessary partisans” and as people with “factional sympathies.” He also claims in the brief that “Party balance is not a fundamental principle of Minnesota election law” despite the fact that it is emphasized seven times in six different elections statutes.

One always wonders what the Supreme Court sees to warrant granting an appeal. Could it be they see it as highly probable that counties across the state have been establishing their absentee ballot boards without election judges, and that Olmsted and Ramsey counties are just a tip of the iceberg?

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Or could it be they see statutory party balance requirements in Minnesota elections being ignored throughout the state? Perhaps it was concerning that party lists of election judges are simply being disregarded by city and county election staff who prefer to appoint themselves rather than exhaust the election judge lists from the major political parties as required by law.

Whatever the reason, the case will have far-reaching implications for Minnesota elections if MVA prevails. A ruling in MVA’s favor could compel the current DFL Secretary of State to issue new and accurate rules to cities and counties requiring their absentee ballot boards be comprised of election judges, chosen from political party lists, to accept and reject absentee ballots and that they must adhere to statutory party balance requirements.

A favorable ruling could also preclude cities and counties from the current practice of excluding party balanced election judges on ballot boards by creating “counterfeit” deputy county auditor positions solely for the purpose of serving on those boards.

Although Minnesota election law allows deputy county auditors or deputy city clerks to be “included” on a ballot board, a favorable ruling would clear up the outrageous misapplication of this clause by counties and cities that have appointed scores of these counterfeit deputies (mostly unionized government staff) to their ballot boards who have not been duly appointed according to statute. It could also stipulate that deputies, if given the task of accepting and rejecting, must declare their party affiliation in order to enforce party balance requirements in the law.

The stakes are high and the opposition from administrative bureaucracies, who hate having their authority challenged, is strong.

The Supreme Court has issued a briefing schedule and we await a hearing date for oral arguments. Perhaps Minnesota voters will finally get the fair and just process they have been denied for far too long.

Andy Cilek is executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, a group of citizens, volunteers, and experts committed to protecting the liberty interests of Americans through legal action.

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