Until recently, it seemed likely that Hillary Clinton would win a free and fair election in Minnesota. And then the DFL Party sued to keep Donald Trump’s name off the ballot.
As I expected, the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed the DFL’s complaint, but the attempt to disenfranchise a large set of voters will affect the party for years to come. I expect Republican voters, even those lukewarm or even opposed to Trump, to be incensed and energized by these DFL shenanigans. What should have been an easy victory for the DFL in November will now become a closely contested race that the DFL might and perhaps should lose.
The DFL suit depended on a technicality. Last year, Minnesota joined three other states and adopted the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, which, among other things, added the requirement that the election of alternate electors occur at state conventions. This was a minor change, and a small one compared with the rest of the bill. It is also one the Republicans failed to notice and comply with. They elected electors, but failed to properly elect the alternates.
What should the consequences of such an error be? The DFL wanted to remove the Republican nominee from the ballot, because the Republican Party had not properly provided a list of alternates, thus denying a great many Minnesotans of their opportunity to vote for their first choice. The Republicans, however, have provided a legal list of electors. So the only question really should be: Can a candidate appear on the ballot without alternate electors?
The act itself, as recorded in the statutes in sections 208.40 to 208.48, specifies how to replace electors if needed. The Republicans have provided a sufficient list to comply with the U.S. Constitution and state law. They have not adequately provided their preferred list of alternates. Thus the controlling language under 208.45(b)(3) would be “if the number of alternate electors present to vote is insufficient to fill any vacant position pursuant to clauses (1) and (2), by appointing any immediately available individual who is qualified to serve as an elector and chosen through nomination by a plurality vote of the remaining electors, including nomination and vote by a single elector if only one remains … .”
In other words, no alternates are necessary, according to the law. Trump will remain on the ballot, but the list of alternates should be removed. If Trump wins, and there is a vacancy on the Trump slate, the electors themselves will have to choose the replacement, according to state law.
While this case was dismissed based on time rather than reaching its merits, a Democratic party should trust democracy and not try to use minor rule infractions to remove strong candidates from the race. The DFL should have read the statutes more thoroughly when proposing the remedy for the mistake. Playing with a broken stick is a minor penalty, not a match penalty. Minnesotans know better.
J. Scott Johnson is a professor of political science at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. The opinions expressed are not intended to represent those of his employer.