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Could Cities’ Extended Emergency Orders for Coronavirus Undermine 2020 Elections?

Minnetrista City Councilor Shannon Bruce poses a timely question on her personal blog. Why does a small suburb of the Twin Cities need to continue to invoke emergency powers authority because of the coronavirus, particularly with the state winding down restrictions?

Head scratcher? Not really. Are you wondering why, as we all are, Minnetrista has an “indefinite” emergency order (it never expires) when the city has had no staff or first responders test positive for COVID19, has taken no measures since implementing the order in March that would have required an emergency order, nor had any significant expenses for federal reimbursement related to COVID19? You can stop wondering.

A mayoral candidate and proponent of increased government transparency, Bruce concludes it all comes down to a power grab aimed at making absentee voting the new normal in the election this fall, potentially opening the door to voter fraud.

Absentee mail-in balloting is why. If the National League of Cities (a bastion of nonpartisanship) can help prolong the pandemic (i.e., flatten the curve) thru the fall, the opportunity to use the “crisis” to justify the mailing of absentee ballots to all registered voters is likely. Here is their “Cities Vote” program being promoted locally by each state chapter. Absentee ballots are filled out in private and the potential for fraud or coercion is much higher than voting in person where election judges are present, not to mention the millions of absentee ballots that have “gone missing” in past elections.

In fact, Bruce has already exposed an apparently rogue attempt earlier this month by city staff on Facebook to persuade all Minnetrista residents to mail in their votes this year in the forthcoming primary and general elections.

“Starting today, Minnesotans can request an absentee mail ballot for the upcoming August and November elections! To maintain social distancing, the City of Minnetrista encourages everyone to vote absentee by mail instead of in person on election day. ” [emphasis added]

The Minnetrista city council did not issue the statement above. In fact, the city council hasn’t even discussed, to-date, the matter of absentee or mail-in voting. So it was obviously someone on staff that made the post. Upon seeing the post I requested it be taken down immediately, which it was. However, it had a life of over 8 hours and was shared by several people.

Could the municipal emergency order pave the way to position the city to receive federal funds to implement mail-in voting?

Should they be successful, county and local offices will need to make sure they have the personnel, technology and time to process the volume of absentee voter registration applications and mail-in ballots. What better way to get money than to justify it with COVID-19 federal dollars tied to protecting public health. To get that funding requires local emergency orders stay in place beyond November to get reimbursed.

Cities around the country are being advised by legal counsel from their state’s municipal league to enact local emergency orders for an “indefinite period” as regional public safety teams meet weekly to ensure all cities stay on the same page and resist pressure to lift the orders.

The Minnetrista City Council indefinitely extended the local emergency order in the midst of the dire predictions for the coronavirus back in March. Now it seems residents concerned over local elected officials retaining emergency authority may have a fight on their  hands, not only in Minnetrista but other Minnesota cities, as well.

Monday’s Minnetrista council work session heard justification for not rescinding the order come from the city’s Public Safety Director, the city’s contract attorney (whose legal firm is on  the League of Minnesota Cities advisory board), and Mayor Lisa Whalen, who published a blog on the topic yesterday. The “biggest risk factor” was stated by the Public Safety Director as being staffing, even though the city has yet to have a single employee, or first responder in the city test positive. One must ask why, absent any logical reasons, are cities keeping these orders in place indefinitely.

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