Three Washington County residents have filed suit against Independent School District 833, alleging that a recount of votes cast in the November election wrongly led to passage of a $96 million bond issue.
The suit was filed Wednesday in Washington County District Court by Susan Richardson, Andrea Mayer-Bruestle and Leilani Holmstadt. All three have campaigned unsuccessfully for school board seats in recent years.
They are challenging a canvassing board’s Nov. 20 decision to declare five ballots cast in the Nov. 3 election as “non-votes,” which resulted in passage of Ballot Question 2. That question, one of three presented to voters, called for approving general obligation bonds to build a new middle school in Cottage Grove and renovate the current Oltman Middle School, in St. Paul Park, to house the Nuevas Fronteras Elementary School.
The plaintiffs allege that the canvassing board didn’t follow Minnesota law in determining voter intent when evaluating the contested ballots. Their attorney, Erick Kaardal of Minneapolis, said the board never concluded that it was “impossible” to determine the intent of the voter.
Had the Canvassing Board “not erred in its determinations” and instead found that the contested ballots were “no” votes instead of “non-votes,” Kaardal said, Ballot Question 2 would have failed due to a tie: 6,840 voting “yes” and 6,840 voting “no.”
The suit asks that a district court judge reverse the canvassing board’s decision and declare the ballots as “no” votes, “thus restoring election integrity and re-enfranchising the voters who cast the contested five ballots,” Kaardal said.
In a statement issued after the canvassing board decision, South Washington County Superintendent Keith Jacobus said he was “pleased that this process verified the passage of the bond referendum.”
Voters approved the first ballot question, which will add about $10.3 million (or $525 per student) to the general fund each year for the next 10 years. They rejected the third question, which requested funding to expand each of the district’s three high schools and make improvements at each of the district’s elementary schools.
Richardson and Holmstadt campaigned for the school board in 2013. Mayer-Bruestle campaigned this fall and also led a campaign to defeat all three ballot questions, arguing that the district hasn’t been transparent with its spending.