MN Secretary of State Sued for Instructing Election Judges to Let Felons and Others Known to be Ineligible to Vote
Minnesota Secretary of State and county election managers are being sued by election judges who claim the 2016 Minnesota Election Judge Guide requires them to violate state election laws.
The lawsuits were filed today in Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis Counties by three election judges who are requesting an injunction relieving them from having to provide ballots to people who are listed as felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens.
“It is important for all election judges to honor their election judge oath to adhere to Minnesota election law and allow only eligible voters to cast a vote,” said Andy Cilek, Executive Director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, a nonprofit election law watchdog group involved in the lawsuit.
State law establishes a detailed procedure to match felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens against the list of people who have registered to vote in the statewide voter registration system. In the case of a match, county auditors are required to change the voter status of any registered voters who are determined to be felons, under guardianship or noncitizens.
But according to instructions from the Secretary of State, election officials must allow felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens who are identified as such on the poll roster to vote anyway, so long as they take an oath claiming they are eligible to vote.
However, the lawsuit asserts that election judges have no authority to give a ballot to someone who self-certifies after the state has already determined they are a felon, under guardianship or noncitizen, and thereby ineligible to vote. If they allow these people to vote, the plaintiffs believe they are actively assisting an ineligible voter to cast a ballot, which is a gross misdemeanor.
“These judges are really caught in a Catch-22,” said Peter Nelson, Vice President and Senior Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment. “If they abide by these instructions, they believe they’re undermining the integrity of the election and at the same time, may be committing a crime. On the other hand, they may be committing a gross misdemeanor if, as instructed, they don’t provide a ballot to people who are listed as felons, under guardianship or noncitizens.”
Joe Mansky, a highly influential election official from Ramsey County, has affirmed the legal obligations and penalties for failing to provide ballots to felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens who take an oath.
“Election judges in Minnesota are legally required to allow a challenged voter to vote if they answer questions under oath that indicate they are eligible to vote,” Mansky said in recent court documents.
Minnesota is one of a handful of states without provisional balloting that would address this issue for election judges. Provisional balloting allows people to vote, but their vote is not counted until eligibility is confirmed.