A group that has repeatedly challenged Minnesota’s elections process says several election judges — including three it is joining in a new lawsuit — are refusing to follow their duties at polling places because they disagree with how the state checks voters’ eligibility.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance filed lawsuits last week in Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties with election officials from each area, contending that the secretary of state’s office is not doing enough to block ineligible voters, including felons, noncitizens and people considered wards of the state because of their developmental disabilities or other issues.
The cases, which have been combined and will be heard by a Ramsey County judge on Friday, largely mirror a lawsuit the group filed earlier this year with the Minnesota Supreme Court. In that matter, the state’s highest court determined that it was not the proper jurisdiction to hear the case and sent it back to district court, where it has not yet been settled.
In the meantime, with Election Day approaching, leaders of the Minnesota Voters Alliance decided to move forward with another lawsuit. Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing the group, said he received calls from election judges concerned about the potential for allowing felons to vote.
Records for registered voters who were convicted of a felony or are declared ineligible for other reasons are listed in state voting records with a “challenged” status. When those voters go to the polls, elections judges who believe the voters are ineligible are required to ask the voter a series of questions, while under oath, to determine the voter’s eligibility. If the voter fails to answer the questions correctly, they can’t vote. But if their answers indicates that they are eligible, the voter is given a ballot.
Ryan Furlong, a spokesman for Secretary of State Steve Simon, said his office does not comment on pending lawsuits, but that the law is clear: challenged voters can vote if they answer questions about their eligibility “in a way that indicates that they are eligible to vote.”
“Election judges are required to follow the law, and unless a court rules otherwise, Election officials, including election judges, do not have the authority to change this long-standing Minnesota statute,” he said, adding that election judges who do not follow the law can be reassigned or dismissed.
Kaardal said the Minnesota Voters Alliance and the judges who have questioned the procedure said they believe that the state should update records to indicate that felons and others are ineligible to vote, rather than having a “challenged” status that can be checked at the polls. He said he rejects arguments that such a system could disenfranchise voters who are mistakenly listed as ineligible or have regained voting rights.
Kaardal said he’s not sure why Simon would be deliberately going around state election law, if they were acting improperly.
“I think that what’s embedded, they’ve embedded an illegal voting system and they know what they’re doing, and they’re arguing to say anything to defend it,” he said.
An online petition created by the group is gathering signatures of Minnesota elections judges who say they will pledge to ignore the state’s direction and not provide ballots to people with challenged status. The petition had more than 280 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, though the group said they could not verify that those signatures were from Minnesota election judges.