Republican lawmaker sues Minnesota’s top elections official to block mail-in ballot changes

    polling place voting minneapolis
    A polling place in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis in March 2020. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

    A Minnesota Republican lawmaker is suing the state’s top elections official, seeking to block an extension to allow mail-in ballots to be counted up to a week after Election Day, Nov. 3. The extension has been granted and approved by the courts to accommodate the large volume of mail-in ballots because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    State Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, filed the lawsuit with fellow Republican Presidential Elector James Carson on Tuesday in federal court, reviving a months-long legal battle that has already played out in state courts.

    In August, a state judge approved an agreement between Secretary of State Steve Simon and several advocacy groups, which permits ballots to be counted up to a week after Election Day as long as they are postmarked Nov. 3. In previous elections, the ballot had to be received by Election Day. Ramsey County Judge Sara Grewing also waived the requirement for a witness signature.

    President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republic Party of Minnesota balked at the agreement, calling it a subversion of the Legislature’s authority and an invitation to voter fraud. They appealed the decision with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    Ultimately the parties agreed to dismiss the appeals and the Republican committees and Trump campaign waived their right to bring more challenges in any judicial forum.

    Lucero, who was not a named party on the previous lawsuits, could find a judge in federal court more sympathetic to criticisms that the changes to voting rules threaten the integrity of the state’s elections.

    “Plaintiffs, registered voters in Minnesota and certified electors, will be irreparably harmed in all of these ways and respectfully request that the Court declare the Secretary’s agreement unlawful and enjoin it,” Lucero argues in the lawsuit.

    Voting fraud is shown to be extremely rare. The conservative Heritage Foundation found voter fraud in only about 0.00006% of ballots cast nationwide over the past 20 years. In Oregon, where voting has been conducted entirely by mail since 2000, the group found only two fraud convictions since then, a fraud rate of 0.000004%.

    Simon and DFL lawmakers had been pushing for the state to adopt universal mail-in voting, whereby every registered voter would automatically receive a ballot in the mail. That practice is already in place in many townships in greater Minnesota as well as red and purple states like Utah and Colorado, but state Republicans blocked the proposal earlier this year.

    In another lawsuit, an advocacy group sued the state to force it to send mail-in ballots automatically to all registered voters, but the court denied that request, calling it a sweeping change more suitable for the Legislature to decide.

    Simon declined to comment on this case.

    Ricardo Lopez
    Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.
    Max Nesterak
    Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.