St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao indicated he's ready to go to trial after pleading not guilty to three misdemeanors related to allegations that he helped a woman vote when he was running for mayor.
An omnibus hearing Monday before Ramsey County District Judge Robert Awsumb lasted just two minutes, during which Thao stood silently before the judge.
Thao faces one gross misdemeanor charge of unlawfully marking a ballot and petty misdemeanor charges of misconduct in and near polling places and unlawfully assisting a voter. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges March 6.
A pretrial hearing is scheduled for May 1, and a trial will be scheduled on or after May 29. Though Thao will appear in Ramsey County court, Hennepin County deputies investigated the allegations and the Dakota County Attorney's Office charged the case in order to avoid a conflict of interest.
While running for mayor last year, Thao drove an elderly woman who did not speak English to a polling place and helped her fill out her ballot, according to the charges.
Minnesota law prohibits candidates from assisting voters; Thao has said he was simply trying to help the woman vote.
"I didn't do anything intentionally wrong and we have to do better to give people access to the polls," Thao said in a statement Monday.
Also Monday, Thao's attorney Joe Dixon said: "In this case we have Mr. Thao, who assisted one voter when he was asked to help and there was no interpreter at the polling station. There is no allegation that he knew that he was doing anything wrong.
"There's no suggestion that the election judges ever told him there was anything wrong with his conduct before he had actually already helped her. We continue to believe that his conduct was lawful and we will show that at a trial."
Thao represents St. Paul's First Ward, which includes the Frogtown and Rondo neighborhoods. He has said he will not resign his council seat, and a misdemeanor conviction would not require him to do so.
This is the second time Thao has faced allegations of misconduct during the mayoral campaign. A year ago, a lobbyist alleged that Thao's campaign solicited a bribe in exchange for help with city business. A criminal investigation was closed without charges.
Thao's supporters have remained loyal. About 20 people, including constituents and family members, attended his first court appearance in a show of support. On Monday, he was accompanied by his wife and his council legislative aide.