St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao faced criminal charges when, as a mayoral candidate in 2017, he helped an elderly Hmong woman cast her ballot at a local polling station.
Now, Minnesota's secretary of state and attorney general both agree that a state law banning candidates from helping voters runs counter to federal voting laws. The same applies to another law limiting Minnesotans to assisting three voters apiece during an election.
Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Keith Ellison reached a consent agreement last week with Thao to resolve a lawsuit the council member filed in Ramsey County District Court. Both sides agreed that the federal Voting Rights Act lets voters ask the person of their choice for help with voting and preempts any state law trying to impose further restrictions.
Simon, a former state senator, called the state law an "arbitrary, invalid limitation" that he was glad was "no longer part of Minnesota's elections." Simon sponsored a bill to wipe out the restrictions when he was in the Legislature, but it was not taken up.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued Simon on behalf of Thao, community organizers Amee Xiong and Nelsie Yang — now also a St. Paul City Council member — and Chong Lee, a resident who needed help voting in the 2017 election.