The Potluck

Carver County votes to use more partisan election judges in November election

By: - August 16, 2022 3:22 pm

Voters walk into a polling station at the Minnesota National Guard Minneapolis armory Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Republicans who believe false claims that the 2020 election was stolen helped persuade Carver County officials to use more partisan poll workers than in the past.

The Carver County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to use as many partisan poll workers as possible — as opposed to county workers— for the November general election. The board also voted to stop using absentee ballot boxes, using a mail slot inside a county building instead.

The moves are intended to combat fraud even though post-election audits show 100% accuracy in Carver County vote counting since 2006. 

Minnesota Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide race since 2006, have been pushing to recruit more election judges in the hope that more GOP eyes on the polls will foil perceived election fraud. And some activists have been pushing for more partisan election judges — rather than city and county workers — on ballot boards, which decide whether or to accept or reject absentee ballots.

Election judges are not as official as they sound: They’re just poll workers.

Absentee ballot boards — traditionally staffed by government workers alongside election judges nominated by political parties — accept or reject absentee ballots. Most election judges are recruited by local election officials from among their city or county staff who self-certify their party affiliation.

But right-wing activists are distrustful of those city or county workers, and want more ballot board members to be partisans.

Rick Weible, the former mayor of St. Bonifacius, has helped lead the charge, spreading 2020 election fraud claims under the moniker “Midwest Swamp Watch.” In July, Weible and about 30 activists showed up at the Carver County board meeting to lobby for hand counts, more partisan election judges and elimination of absentee ballot boxes.

Weible claimed the county is using outdated voting machine operating systems and asked the board to do a hand count for the primary election.

The League of Women Voters Minnesota has been working to counter election misinformation by showing up at some of the same meetings. 

The League lobbied Carver County not to give in to activists’ demands — although most of the Republican activists who testified still weren’t satisfied with the board’s action.

Laura Helmer, president of the League of Women Voters Minnesota and a Chanhassen resident, urged the board to reject the two resolutions on Tuesday.

Helmer said passage would be a victory for election deniers, and asked the board not to “interject a hyper-partisan sentiment” into the election.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in March that partisan election judges must be a part of ballot boards, but the boards don’t have to be filled primarily with election judges. The court also ruled that certain tasks must be done by partisan election judges, such as validating signatures.

About a dozen residents spoke during a public hearing before the vote Tuesday. One asked the county to create an election task force to examine the issues. Several asked that the county electronically capture ballots to allow for forensic analysis and retain last week’s primary election data for future examination. Others claimed county workers aren’t responding to their requests for public data.

Carver County Board Chair Gayle Degler said sometimes people just don’t like the answer they get, and election staffers are swamped with election duties right now.

Sarah Carlson, a member of the League from Chaska, said the right-wing activists were painting county workers as criminals with no evidence.

“This is a thankless undertaking in the best of times,” Carlson said. “And these aren’t the best of times.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.