The Minnesota Voters Alliance is suing the city of Minneapolis, seeking to block it from accepting money to help cover the costs of the presidential election.
The city announced last week that it is in the running for a grant, estimated between $2 million and $3 million, from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), based in Chicago.
The city intends to use the grant money to help plug a gap in its elections budget. City officials initially budgeted $6.4 million for elections this year, and spent $3.7 million of that running the presidential nomination primary, the Sixth Ward special election and the state primary.
Spokesman Casper Hill said the city originally estimated it would cost $4.1 million to run the presidential general election, leaving a gap of roughly $1.4 million. The city could use the grant money to cover that gap and place any leftover funds in next year’s elections budget, Hill said.
The city has hired additional election workers and increased safety precautions as it prepares for high voter turnout during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Thursday, an attorney for the Minnesota Voters Alliance — and four Minneapolis residents — argues that the city does not have the authority to accept money from private organizations to help cover election costs. The suit argues that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act and Minnesota laws would prohibit cities from accepting these types of grants.
“The idea of the federal and state government exclusively funding federal elections is to eliminate undue influence and the appearance of undue influence by private parties,” wrote attorney Erick G. Kaardal. “With the entanglement of public and private interests, CTCL’s private funding of federal elections introduces undue influence and the appearance of undue influence into federal elections — which should be declared ... constitutionally impermissible.”
Kaardal wrote that other cities that have received grants from the center “have progressive voting patterns.” The alliance is also working on a separate lawsuit, supported by Republican legislators, that seeks to block a face mask requirement at polling places.
Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader said the city will defend itself against the lawsuit.
“Grant funds are being used by the City to increase ballot access to any voter who wants to safely cast a ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rowader said in a statement. “Our goal is to empower all voters regardless of their party affiliation.”
CTCL also released a statement late Friday calling the lawsuit “baseless” and “frivolous.”
“This year, we’ve heard from countless election officials, from across the political spectrum, who simply don’t have the funding they need to provide a safe, secure voting process for their voters as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the organization said. “In this moment of need, we feel so fortunate to be administering an open call grant program available to every local election department in every state in the union to ensure that they have the staffing, training, and equipment necessary so that this November every eligible voter can participate in a safe and timely way and have their vote counted.”