Absentee Ballot Envelope

Duluth Abandons Voter Protections When Examining Absentee Ballots

| Ballot boards are stacked with city insiders instead of election judges |

On Thursday, July 15, 2020, the Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA), Republican Party of Minnesota (RPM), State Senate Candidate Donna Bergstrom, and several election judges have filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus asking the St. Louis County District Court to order the City of Duluth to follow the law for appointing members to the absentee ballot review board for this November’s elections.

To view the MVA petition for Writ of Mandamus:CLICK HERE

You may recall that the MVA filed a similar lawsuit last week against the City of Minneapolis.

For years, Duluth has used city clerk employees to do the critical function of examining absentee ballot envelopes and deciding which ones are to be rejected and which are accepted.

The law, however, requires the ballot board to be comprised of election judges from lists submitted by the major political parties. The city simply ignores the law, uses insiders to accept and reject ballots, and avoids any outside scrutiny over its handling of mailed-in ballots.


Shortly after the highly contested recount in 2010 between Al Franken and Norm Coleman, a race in which 300,000 absentee ballots were cast and 12,000 were rejected, the legislature passed a law to ensure impartiality. It required that election judges reviewing each absentee ballot envelope must be of different major political parties (party balance).

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 along with election judges.

The legislature understood that when an individual, however qualified they may be to perform election duties, becomes an employee of a city or county, earning an income from that city or county, the employee’s impartiality is compromised due to the authority the city has over the individual as the individual’s employer.

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 seen up close.

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

Election Process must be Trustworthy and Transparent

The government has an obligation to the people of Minnesota to make sure the election process is lawful, trustworthy, beyond reproach, and transparent. Duluth simply must obey the law.

Secretary of State Steve Simon’s policies have enabled jurisdictions throughout the state to do much the same as Duluth. As the state’s chief election official, he bears major responsibility for this systemic failure to protect mail-in ballots from potential mistreatment.

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One comment

  • Betty Peterson

    The recount in 2010 was the governors race between Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer.
    The Coleman/Franken I think was in 2008.