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Minnesota Supreme Court orders ballot corrections in Kittson, Roseau counties

The two northwestern Minnesota counties petitioned the state’s Supreme Court after realizing the ballot was missing political affiliations for some candidates and failed to label others as incumbents.

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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday, Oct. 19, granted petitions for two far northwestern Minnesota counties to revise their ballots for the November election after the counties realized some required candidate information was omitted.

Earlier this month, election officials in Kittson and Roseau counties filed petitions to the Minnesota Supreme Court seeking to allow alterations to the ballot counting process after they received flawed ballots from Minneapolis-based SeaChange.

The ballots left off political affiliations for some federal and state candidates and also failed to label incumbents in races for judicial seats as required by law. Roseau County Auditor Martha Monsrud made clear that names and offices were correct on the ballots.

But the counties differed in their methodology to resolve the issue. Though it’s unclear which county proposed it, one requested the option to duplicate already-received ballots onto correct ballots and cast them on behalf of voters.

The court instructed the counties to serve their petitions upon Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon — as well as all affected candidates. Simon responded to both petitions.

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“The Secretary of State argues that petitioners should send corrected ballots to all voters who received incorrect ballots,” an opinion released Wednesday reads. “He also suggests petitioners should send written instructions to voters.”

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon

In his response to the petitions, Simon noted that if a voter has not yet submitted a ballot, the voter should be told to complete the replacement ballot. However, if the voter has returned an incorrect ballot, the voter should be told of the option to declare the ballot spoiled and receive a replacement ballot.

“The Secretary of State believes that petitioners should be authorized to duplicate ballots only after informing voters of their right to spoil their original ballot and cast a vote with a corrected ballot,” the opinion adds.

While the court notes that most responses filed by candidates from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party were similar in nature to that of Simon, a response from Travis “Bull” Johnson, a U.S. House candidate from the Legal Marijuana Now Party, said duplicate ballots may shake voter confidence.

“[Johnson] states that sending multiple ballots to voters might erode voter confidence in election integrity. Instead, he proposes notifying all voters who received incorrect ballots of the error on the ballot, giving them the omitted information, and informing them that they have the option to spoil their original ballot and cast a new one with a corrected ballot,” the court summarized on Johnson’s behalf. “Johnson further asks that counties be prohibited from duplicating ballots but that they be ordered to accept all incorrect ballots submitted by voters unless that voter spoils their original ballot and submits a corrected ballot.”

The high court ultimately ordered both counties to correct the ballot for future voters. Those who have already received or cast incorrect ballots must receive a duplicate ballot with a letter explaining that those who haven’t cast their ballot shall use the corrected ballot, and those who have cast their ballot can contact the county for their incorrect ballot to be spoiled.

Monsrud said Roseau Counties, with a population of roughly 15,300, that 127 incorrect ballots had been sent out, with 78 received. Roseau County has already received corrected ballots.

Kittson County Administrator Brian Buhmann told Forum News Service that his county had initially mailed out 1,791 incorrect ballots. As of Wednesday, 277 had been submitted back to election officials.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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