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Minnesota Court of Appeals Decision on Absentee Ballot Processing Creates More Questions Than Answers

Golden Valley, MN – Yesterday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the Secretary of State may, by rule, revoke the statutory discretion given to election judges. The Legislature’s law requires that an election judge be “satisfied” that “the voter signed” a ballot and must compare signatures to determine that the voter signed a ballot if there is an identification number mismatch. In conflict, the Secretary’s rule does not allow any rejection of a ballot even where there is a signature mismatch—only where there is a “different name” on the ballot and the application for the ballot.

The decision failed to address at least two glaring problems in its interpretation, which clouds the application of the law as election judges prepare to accept and reject absentee ballots in key midterm elections.

First, the decision rewrote the law by brushing aside, in a footnote, that the law states that “the” voter must have signed the absentee ballot, not “a” voter. The Court’s decision allows the rule to alter that statutory requirement.

Second, the decision failed to even acknowledge that, under the Secretary’s rule, two different people can sign an absentee application and ballot, as long as the name on both is the same. Under the Secretary’s rule, there is also no way to tell if the voter needed assistance from those two people at separate times or not. Instead of making the common-sense determination that the law requires that the same person sign both the application and the ballot and the signatures appear to be the same based on common sense and good judgment, the Court essentially held that any person can sign any ballot for anyone, without limitation.

Andy Cilek, Executive Director of Minnesota Voters Alliance, said: “Our system depends on relying on the judgment, wisdom, experience, and training of citizen election judges, balanced by party, in deciding whether the voter who applied for a ballot actually cast it. The Court’s decision has created much confusion for election judges, and so we will immediately appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

James Dickey, Senior Trial Counsel of the Upper Midwest Law Center, added: “The Court substituted the judgment of the Secretary of State in place of party-balanced citizen election judges. The rule conflicts with the law, and the decision today allowed the rule to take the law’s place. We will ask the Supreme Court to fix this error and deliver clarity for Minnesota’s election judges.”

MVA intends to file a Petition for Review to the Minnesota Supreme Court and expedite the proceedings as early as this week.

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Related News

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center, filed today with the Secretary of State’s Office the first of several complaints against county auditors across Minnesota who have failed to uphold their obligation to remove duplicate entries from Minnesota’s Statewide Voter Registration Service (SVRS). The Foundation filed these complaints after its research uncovered hundreds of duplicate voter registrations in Minnesota, and the Secretary of State’s office disclaimed responsibility for keeping the SVRS clean, pointing instead to Minnesota’s county auditors. 

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