On July 18, the last day candidates could file for office, political newcomer Brian Smith went to the Secretary of State's office to file as an Independence Party candidate in House District 58B in north Minneapolis. The open seat is currently held by DFLer Keith Ellison, who's running for Congress.
Smith says Kiffmeyer personally assisted him at the counter. He says Kiffmeyer signed his application and affidavit, and gave him a packet of information on running for the Legislature.
"She explained everything to me, how to order maps, the ins and outs of the campaign finance, and said, 'Congratulations and good luck, if you need anything, let us know,'" Smith says. "I left the office and thought I was done."
Kiffmeyer didn't tell him that he was in the wrong place. Smith needed to file in Hennepin County, because House District 58B is located within Hennepin County. Only candidates running for offices that cross county borders can file at the Secretary of State's office.
Smith says with an hour and a half left before the 5 p.m. filing deadline, he would have had time to get to the Hennepin County elections office.
"If I made a mistake, I can live up to that, no problem, I was in the wrong place. And if anybody else other than Mary Kiffmeyer had accepted my affidavit, I would have not been upset," says Smith. "But she could have simply said, 'You're in the wrong office, at 3:32, you need to go to Hennepin County.'"
Kiffmeyer says it's not that simple.
Kiffmeyer says on the last day of filing, her office was dealing with a crush of last-minute candidates, including a slate of Green Party candidates and several DFLers filing for Attorney General after Matt Entenza dropped out of the race.
Kiffmeyer says the filing brochure on the counter clearly points out where candidates need to file, and she says candidates who want to serve in the Legislature should read the election laws.
She could have simply said, 'You're in the wrong office.'
"There are 134 House races, and 67 Senate seats, and you cannot have them memorized as far as exactly which number's where -- especially when you are at an extremely busy counter," Kiffmeyer says. "At that particular time right then, we had three-deep at the counter, taking petitions, and doing everything we could, and he came in in the midst of that."
Kiffmeyer says Smith didn't put his phone number on his application. When her staff figured out he'd filed in the wrong place, they e-mailed him and left a message at the number listed on his campaign Web site.
But Smith didn't figure out the mistake until the following day, and the Hennepin County elections office didn't get his filing materials before the deadline.
Hennepin County elections specialist David Maeda says his office trains staff to check with candidates to make sure they're in the right spot, and refers them to the Secretary of State's office if necessary. He says it's unfortunate the reverse didn't happen in Smith's case.
Smith has picked up an unlikely political ally in his fight to get on the ballot. The DFL-endorsed candidate for Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, says the situation is another example of Kiffmeyer playing politics with her office.
"In this case, misinformation gets mixed in with incompetence, gets mixed in with partisan behavior -- and I think that that's a deadly combination for Minnesota's democracy," Ritchie said.
Brian Smith says he's talked to people on the north side of Minneapolis who believe if he were a Republican, this wouldn't have happened.
Kiffmeyer says Smith's political party has nothing to do with this, and she takes issue with Ritchie's accusations.
"We do our best by every single customer, no matter their political party," Kiffmeyer says. "And just because they happen to be one or the other, and to politicize it by making those kinds of comments are probably the more political."
Kiffmeyer points out that she worked with DFL Senate candidate David Francis to fax in his filing materials because he was out of state looking for his missing son. After initially arguing that the Green Party's attorney general candidate could not use his nickname on the ballot, Kiffmeyer agreed that Papa John Kolstad had made a reasonable case to allow his name to appear that way.
The Supreme Court has yet to schedule a hearing on Smith's petition to get on the ballot.