A Republican legislator demanded Tuesday that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton halt a child care provider unionization election, saying some voters are wrongly being left off the rolls.

In a letter to Dayton, state Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, said the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) compiled a list of voters that is too small, resulting in what she says is an advantage for pro-union forces. The mistakes "will result in significant disenfranchisement of independent child care providers who deserve a voice," Mack said.

Dayton dismissed the complaints in a Tuesday news conference as the latest effort to stymie providers' efforts to organize. "This is one more of these harassing tactics," he said. "Why not let there be an election and why not let the workers decide for themselves? That to me is the American way to proceed."

The letter is the latest twist in a deeply partisan battle over whether state subsidized child care will be unionized.

If eligible child care providers vote yes, they will join AFSCME, a major public employee union and a strong backer of DFL candidates and causes. The union would collectively bargain on behalf of providers who receive state money to care for children under the Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP.

"There are too many variables that seem fishy," said Hollee Saville, owner of Happee Hollee's Preschool and Childcare in St. Michael, where 19 children are cared for. "It throws up red flags and reeks of political payback."

The election caps a three-year struggle that began in the 2013 legislative session to unionize personal-care attendants — who voted to unionize in 2014 — and now child care workers. Republicans said the bill was a DFL power grab to help unions win members and dues money to help their DFL friends in political campaigns.

AFSCME spokeswoman Jennifer Munt said the Republicans' latest effort to stop the organizing campaign would itself amount to "disenfranchis[ing] the women who care for Minnesota's poorest children."

The latest dispute entails who is eligible to vote.

A DHS spokeswoman said the agency compiled the list of voters by gathering all of the eligible providers receiving state funding in December 2015, which is the month that preceded the election petition.

Mack said that all providers who received any state child care funding in the previous 12 months, not just December, should be eligible to vote.

Union advocates say that Mack's complaint stems from language in a House bill but that it was a Senate bill that actually became law, stating that voters would have to be in the CCAP program at the time of the election petition, not just at any time in the previous year.

The distinction is important — a difference of as many as 9,000 voters, Mack said. Unionization opponents say a smaller pool of voters makes it easier for AFSCME to win.

Union foes also say December payments to CCAP providers in Wright County were delayed until January, which took them off the voter rolls. Saville of Happee Hollee's said she finds it troubling that providers in a more conservative county would be taken off the voter rolls. "This forces providers who are trying to help low-income children and families to make a terrible choice: Do I want to keep helping these children and be forced to give money to a union whose views I don't agree with?" she asked.

Munt said Child Care Providers Together Local 3400 has set dues at $25 a month, though they wouldn't kick in until a first contract is ratified. Voting concludes Feb. 29.

Cynthia McRae-Winborn, who provides child care for nine children in Richfield, said the union would be an important voice in licensing and funding issues. "Who do you talk to? Who do you go to? How do you get an issue resolved? They know the steps to take," she said of the union. "We need that support, people who care and understand."

J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042