A Lake Elmo voter frustrated that President Donald Trump could be the only name on the Minnesota GOP presidential primary ballot in March may have disrupted the launch of the state’s first presidential primary in decades.
Jim Martin, a small-business operator and political independent, filed a legal challenge to the March 3 primary because he didn’t want to participate in what he called a “Soviet-style” election in which the political parties dictate who the voters can elect. “I want to be in an American election,” said Martin. “It’s something that sets us apart from the world.”
His lawsuit, which goes before the Minnesota Supreme Court on Jan. 9, challenges state election laws that allow party chairs to determine the makeup of taxpayer-funded primary ballots. The ballot submitted by the Minnesota Republican Party for the March 3 Super Tuesday presidential primary excludes all GOP candidates but Trump. The GOP ballot sparked his lawsuit, Martin said, but three minor Democratic candidates who didn’t file paperwork on time won’t be on the DFL ballot.
State officials warned the Supreme Court in papers filed this week that unless the ballot question is settled “within the first few days of January,” they may not have enough time to print and distribute ballots for the start of early voting on Jan. 17. On Thursday the court denied a request from Secretary of State Steve Simon and the Attorney General’s Office to expedite the hearing on Martin’s suit, leaving the question of ballot preparedness in limbo.
A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office had no immediate comment.
The March 3 presidential primary will be the state’s first since 1992, after a law passed three years ago did away with presidential straw polls formerly taken at precinct caucuses. The secretary of state expects the primary to cost $11.9 million.
The primary ballots will include all three “major” political parties in Minnesota, which also includes the Legal Marijuana Now Party.
The GOP ballot in Minnesota originally included Trump only, though party officials have since said they will allow write-in candidates. Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan has defended the move, arguing that her job as party leader is to help re-elect the president next year.
The DFL submitted a list of 15 candidates who are still actively campaigning for the 2020 Democratic nomination, agreed to the Democratic National Committee’s delegate selection rules and submitted letters of interest. The Democratic field has had as many as 28 candidates, although 13 have dropped out.
Still, the petition filed by Martin argues that both parties left out potentially viable candidate choices.
“This is a very stupid system and it is unconstitutional because political party chairs shouldn’t be in control of who is on the presidential primary ballot,” said Erick Kaardal, a Minneapolis attorney representing Martin.
Martin said he wants to vote for Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, a businessman who has run unsuccessful campaigns for public office.
Martin said he first heard of the GOP’s Trump-only ballot from his mother, who told him that the Republican Party wouldn’t let them vote for anyone else.
“I thought, ‘What the heck?’ ” Martin said. He first wrote proposed legislation that would change the primary rules and sent it to Democrats and Republicans at the state Legislature. He soon after filed the lawsuit with Kaardal’s help.
He then reached out to four Republican candidates for president, including De La Fuente, William Weld, Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh. De La Fuente said, “Let’s do this,” according to Martin. De La Fuente is listed as a co-plaintiff on the lawsuit.
Martin pointed to federal election reports showing a $50,000 payment to the state Republican Party from the Republican National Committee on the same September day that the Trump campaign sent money to the RNC. It’s legal for the president’s campaign to send money to the party, but to Martin, it looked like a payoff for keeping other candidates’ names off the ballot.
“It just really struck me as crazy as to what the law allows for,” he said.
Carnahan disputes Martin’s claims that the money transfers were a payoff, calling the claims “egregious, absurd and irresponsible.” The party “does not operate in dark alleys or shady corners,” she said.
Martin said he’s neither a Republican nor a Democrat, and that he voted for a constitutionalist candidate in 2016.
“[State DFL Chairman] Ken Martin and Jennifer Carnahan decide who gets to govern. Not us,” he said. “We’re being told who gets to govern you.”