Republicans in the Minnesota Senate called Thursday for state Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to at least temporarily step aside from his duties as an election official during an upcoming special election amid an investigation into Ritchie's impartiality.

Ritchie, a DFLer, is being investigated by the legislative auditor to determine whether he improperly transferred a state mailing list to his campaign, which then solicited a political contribution.

Ritchie's spokesman, John Aiken, told the Associated Press that Ritchie rejected the suggestion.

Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, the ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees state government, said the Republican caucus was concerned about "getting a fair shake" in the upcoming Jan. 3 election to replace Sen. Tom Neuville, who was recently appointed a judge.

"This is not meant to be punitive, this is not meant to be another round of gotcha politics. This is meant to be a balanced measure, a fair and reasonable response to real concerns about a serious issue," Gerlach said.

At a Capitol news conference, the Republicans urged Ritchie to step aside and allow his elections deputy to oversee the election.

DFL Party chair Brian Melendez was quick to characterize the request as a "maneuver that stinks of political desperation," saying Republicans were trying to deflect attention from the troubles of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Department of Transportation and its commissioner, Carol Molnau.

"Mark Ritchie is an elected constitutional officer of this state. He has a job to do and he's going to do it," Melendez said.

MARK BRUNSWICK