Ballot segregation case lands before Minnesota Supreme Court

A close up shot of files organized on a shelf.
Ballots that have been accepted by the Stearns County ballot board wait to be opened and counted on Election Day.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News file

Minnesota’s Supreme Court gave Republican campaigns until Friday to lay out why a late bid to segregate late-arriving absentee ballots should go forward. 

President Donald Trump’s campaign and the political arms of Minnesota’s two GOP legislative caucuses filed a petition Thursday asking to have ballots be set aside if they come in after Nov. 3.

A consent decree reached this summer would permit counting of those ballots arriving up to seven days after the election — Nov. 10 — as long as they are mailed before the close of polls.

Secretary of State Steve Simon, a DFLer, reached the accord in July to accommodate unique voting circumstances during the pandemic. A three-day grace period also applied to the August primary and wasn’t challenged in the same fashion.

Attorneys for Trump and the GOP argue the agreement “usurps the power of the Minnesota Legislature to set the manner of conducting elections. Among other things, it provides that ballots received up to eight days after Election Day without a postmark will be counted, at least when there is not clear evidence that the ballot was sent after Election Day.”

They say they’re reserving the right to challenge the validity of those ballots so they shouldn’t be mixed with other votes.

The state Supreme Court pointed out in an order signed by Justice G. Barry Anderson that the Trump campaign and the Republican Party waived the ability to lodge some challenges when they abandoned a similar case in August. The Supreme Court dismissed a case after the parties made an agreement that included the waiver.

Anderson said it’s up to the party attorneys to say why the case should be considered so long after the decree was struck and so close to the election.

“We have said, in the context of election-related challenges brought under [Minnesota law] that an unreasonable delay in asserting a known right to the prejudice of others may make it inequitable to grant the relief requested,” Anderson wrote. 

Briefs are due by Friday by the Republicans and by Monday by the Secretary of State and other defendants. The election is a day later.

A similar challenge around the late-arriving absentee ballots in Minnesota is pending before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, with a ruling expected any day. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted ballot-counting extensions in Pennsylvania and North Carolina but denied one for Wisconsin. Those rulings could be revisited after the election.

In a separate ruling Thursday, a federal judge issued an injunction barring a security company from stationing personnel within 2,500 feet of Minnesota polling places.

The order stems from a lawsuit brought by Minnesota chapters of the Council for American Islamic Relations and the League of Women Voters. They sued Tennessee-based Atlas Aegis after it advertised for former military personnel to monitor polling places.
The plaintiffs argued that the effort amounts to voter intimidation.

Judge Nancy Brasel granted the injunction and ordered the company to identify the entities that recruited the security firm.

Atlas had previously signed an assurance with the attorney general that it would stay away from voting locations.

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