Absentee Ballot Boards: Ground Zero for Minnesota Elections

| Lawsuits consolidated against Minneapolis, Duluth, and Ramsey and Olmsted Counties for illegally constituting and running absentee ballot review boards |

In Minnesota this fall, as many as two million ballots will be processed by local absentee ballot boards, virtually none of which follow the laws governing staffing the boards and reviewing the ballot envelopes for legitimacy.

After months of research and preparation, the Minnesota Voters Alliance has challenged several major cities and counties for violating the laws governing the process for reviewing and accepting or rejecting absentee ballots.

For years, Minnesota Election officials have violated ballot board selection laws by using city or county staff to perform the duties of accepting and rejecting absentee ballots.

The law, however, requires (1) that the ballot board be composed of election judges from lists submitted by the major political parties, (2) that each member of the ballot board declare his or her party affiliation, (3) that city and county staff (except for “deputies”) may not serve on the board, and (4) that election judges from both major parties review each absentee ballot envelope that is mailed in and either accept or reject it.

These targeted cities and counties simply ignore the law, deploy biased city insiders to accept and reject ballots, and sidestep all outside scrutiny over their handling of mailed-in ballots.

The Minnesota Supreme Court consolidated the lawsuits filed against the several cities into one case, to be heard by Judge Thomas Gilligan on Wednesday, August 26th.

Legislative background

In the historic 2008 recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, 300,000 absentee ballots were cast and 12,000 were rejected.  In response, the legislature passed a law to ensure impartiality.  It required party balance in that election judges reviewing each absentee ballot envelope must be of different major political parties.  The law was passed by an almost unanimous vote of 131-2 in the House, and 63-0 in the Senate, and signed by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty.

In 2013, the legislature expressly eliminated the provision in that law which had allowed city or county staff to serve on the absentee ballot board after a sufficient number of election judges had been appointed.

The legislature understood that when an individual, however qualified they may be to perform election duties, becomes an employee of a city or county, the employee’s impartiality is compromised due to the authority the city has over the individual as the individual’s employer.  An inherent conflict of interest is present that can influence the individual’s ability to impartially perform these duties, not to mention their own political biases.

Using a balanced number of election judges that are affiliated with different political parties ensures that any one-sided biases in rejecting ballots will be reduced.  Further, if there is mishandling of ballot envelopes by one party, election judges from another major political party will be aware of it and can expose the irregularities they have witnessed.

In short, the Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has implemented a system that is contrary to the intent of the legislature and the will of the people, one in which election officials simply appoint city or county staff to accept and reject ballots behind closed doors without any citizen election judge oversight or party balance.

Expedited Ruling Expected

Because Absentee voting for the general election begins is already beginning in September, Judge Gilligan has indicated that he will rule quickly in the Writ of Mandamus case brought by the Minnesota Voters Alliance.

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