MN Supreme Court opinion
Clarifies the role of Election Judges on Absentee Ballot boards
Minnesota Voters Alliance Gets Clarity on Role of Election Judges in Accepting and Rejecting Absentee Ballots
March 22, 2022, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court clearly established what the
Minnesota Voters Alliance and all those familiar with election law have
known for years. Party balance is required as part of the process of accepting and rejecting ballots in general elections.
Writing the opinion for the Court, Justice G. Barry Anderson explained that the critical task of verifying signatures after an identification number mismatch between absentee ballot applications and ballot envelopes "...is committed to election judges alone, and the absentee ballot board must therefore include a sufficient number of election judges to handle this duty." This demonstrates that inclusion of party-balanced election judges on absentee ballot boards is not enough; they must also be part of the accepting and rejecting process.
Important as well, the Court rejected the Secretary of State’s argument in its brief that ballot boards can have “zero” election judges.
To put the decision in context, Minnesota voters sign an application when applying for an absentee ballot, and also provide an identification number such as the last four digits of a Social Security number. Later, when the ballot is cast, the voter enters an identification number and signs the envelope. Under the Court’s decision, if the ID number does not match, then election judges, who by law must be from different political parties, must examine the signatures on both documents to ensure that the voter actually cast the ballot. This is a crucial election safeguard to ensure integrity in the process.
This decision has a huge practical effect on Minnesota’s absentee ballot boards. Reports from across the state indicate that mismatches of identification numbers constitute a substantial portion of “problem ballots” during ballot processing. “The true impact of this lawsuit is clear from the resulting positive actions of counties across the state in response to our arguments.” said Andy Cilek of the Minnesota Voters Alliance. “Several major counties, including Ramsey, Olmsted, and Anoka, have already changed or have pledged to change the way they compose ballot boards since the filing of this lawsuit.”
The decision serves as a reminder that election judges may perform all the duties which are required of an absentee ballot board member. This is not true of hand-picked staff or so-called deputy county auditors, who need not be included on absentee ballot boards at all.
“The best practice across the state is to staff absentee ballot boards with party-balanced election judges, and this opinion is entirely consistent with that premise. Doing so will deliver needed assurance to Minnesota’s voters, half of whom don’t believe the 2020 Election result was accurate.” - Greg Joseph, attorney representing Plaintiffs
The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's holding, but not before expressing its belief that "It may well be… that some or all of the specific duties of the ballot board would be best performed by election judges balanced by political party." In so opining, Justice Anderson reiterated that the Legislature is responsible for the language to ensure the function of a ballot board properly reflects the will of the people.