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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judges Say Minn. Rules Allow Ineligible Votes

(CN) - Two state election judges sued Minnesota's secretary of state, claiming he is allowing ineligible felons, wards and noncitizens to self-proclaim that they are eligible to vote on Election Day.

Merle Larson, Ramsey County election judge, and her St. Louis County counterpart Gerald Kortesmaki each filed separate petitions Friday against Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

The lawsuits were filed in Larson and Kortesmaki's respective counties. The county elections managers are also named as defendants.

In the 18-page petitions, Larson and Kortesmaki both claim that state officials are requiring them to provide a ballot to ineligible felons, wards and noncitizens who "self-certify." A ward is someone placed under the protection of a legal guardian, like a child or an incapacitated person.

The election judges say they received the 2016 Election Judge Guide, and page 15 provides the self-certification process.

Under the roster challenge procedure, a judge must question a voter if they have a notation indicating a "challenge" to their status, according to the petitions filed by Larson and Kortesmaki.

The judge then asks the voter questions to determine their eligibility, including if they have a felony conviction, are incompetent or have U.S. citizenship, the petitions state.

Larson and Kortesmaki claim that under the guidelines, election judges cross out "challenged felony" if the ineligible registered voter self-certifies.

They say this allows ineligible registered voters to cast a ballot in Minnesota.

"This roster challenge procedure in the 2016 Election Judge Guide exceeds the statutory authority under Minnesota Statue§ 204C.12 which allows challenges to the 'eligibility' of voters — not ineligible felons, wards, and non-citizens to reverse their 'ineligibility' by 'self-certification,'" Larson and Kortesmaki's petitions state.

They say the statute is meant to provide for one last check on the eligibility of someone who is already deemed eligible on the poll roster or who registers on Election Day.

"Nothing in the text of Minnesota Statute § 204C.12 suggests an election judge can remove a challenge already placed on the precinct roster for an ineligible registered voter," according to the petitions.

Requiring an election judge to remove the "challenge" status of a felon or ward who self-certifies essentially forces an election judge to ignore prior court rulings for felony convictions and guardianships, the two judges claim.

As conscientious election judges, Larson and Kortesmaki say they are "put into an impossible situation legally."

Secretary of State Simon is responsible for drafting and publishing the guide for election judges, according to the petitions.

Minnesota is one of 13 states that allow Election Day registration and voting.

Larson and Kortesmaki seek a writ of quo warranto prohibiting Minnesota from requiring election judges to provide ballots to ineligible voters who self-certify.

The judges are represented by Erick Kaardal with Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson in Minneapolis.

Ryan Furlong , communications director for the Minnesota Secretary of State, told Courthouse News that "while our office does not comment on pending litigation, Minnesota law is very clear."

"Challenged voters are allowed to vote if they answer questions put to them by election judges, while under oath, about eligibility in a way that indicates that they are eligible to vote (pursuant to 204C.12, subdivisions 2 and 3)," he said. "Election judges are required to follow the law."

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