James Dickey: UMLC receives victory in election integrity lawsuit

We challenged the Secretary of State's absentee ballot processing rule, and for all practical purposes we won most of the case.

Election Integrity

Today is the first part of a two-part episode of Minnesota Law Weekly, as we have news from one of UMLC’s cases decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court, as well as lots from the end of the Legislative Session. Let’s start with some breaking news from the Minnesota Supreme Court.


The Court made a significant ruling last week mostly in favor of the Upper Midwest Law Center and our client, the Minnesota Voters Alliance. We challenged the Secretary of State’s absentee ballot processing rule, and for all practical purposes we won most of the case.

First, the Court agreed with us and struck down part of the rule that allowed regular ballot board members, not party balanced election judges, to decide whether signatures match when matching occurs. The Court reversed in our favor on that basis.

But very importantly for Minnesota, the Court rejected the Secretary’s interpretation of the rule that allowed any signature to be on the return envelope, even if it is clearly not “the voter’s.” The Secretary had argued in its brief that this part of the absentee balloting statute required “only that there is a signature on the envelope.” The Court absolutely rejected this position, holding that this part of the statute does contain an identity requirement, and the only time a different signature or mark can be used is in the event a voter has a writing disability.

In an important footnote, the Court made very clear that the only time an absentee ballot can be signed by a person other than the voter him or herself is where the person needs an accommodation because of a writing disability. The Rule does not expressly say this, which gave rise to serious concern for us. This is crucial, because the number of folks in our state who literally cannot write their name because of physical disability is not large, so bad actors are prohibited from simply slapping their signature on a ballot and taking someone else’s vote.

Important as well for you all to know, both the application for a Minnesota absentee ballot and the return envelope instruct the person completing it that if a person providing “marking assistance” for a disabled voter is signing on behalf of the voter, that person signing on behalf of the voter must also sign their name, demonstrating that the person received marking assistance. The Supreme Court attached these instructions to its decision, showing their importance. So when election judges come across mismatches, and there’s no evidence that the person received marking assistance, election judges will know that the ballot may potentially be rejected because of a mismatch, and should review the signatures to ensure they are substantially similar.

Because the Court rejected the Secretary’s interpretation under one part of the statute and clarified the scope of the other part challenged, allaying our major concerns, the Court held that there was no conflict between the rule and statute as to how signatures must be analyzed, and so affirmed the validity of the rule on that basis. So, while the case was technically not a complete victory for us, the Court’s interpretation gave us the result we were hoping to get, so we believe we achieved our goals and are pleased with the result.

That’s a lot to digest, so what’s the bottom line for Minnesotans? The bottom line is, you should have confidence that you can submit an early or absentee ballot in Minnesota, and it will count if you follow the rules properly. Your fellow Minnesotans reviewing your return envelope have no idea for whom you voted—that’s the point of the security envelope. And the Secretary of State clearly wants to accept more ballots, not reject them, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll have issues with your vote counting if you submit it early or absentee.

Make sure you create a reminder for yourself of the ID number you use to request an absentee ballot, as the best practice will be to use the same one on your return envelope weeks later. Write your name clearly and sign with your normal signature. There is no excuse for any Minnesotan to miss an opportunity to vote because of bad weather or illness on Election Day itself. Use the procedures available to make voting easier, and get your friends and neighbors to make sure their votes are cast. And when you do that, know that we at the Upper Midwest Law Center, and our client, Minnesota Voters Alliance, are constantly watching to make sure the election rules in our state are fair and don’t disadvantage anyone of any political stripe.

In short, we aim to make Minnesotans more confident in our elections, and we’re glad the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling does just that.

And we are just getting started. As you know, the Minnesota Legislature has passed a number of controversial laws this session. And many of them are, unfortunately, illegal or unconstitutional. And now that the legislature has adjourned, our legal fight begins in earnest.

Let’s take a moment to share some of the battles the Upper Midwest Law Center plans to fight in court.

They include:

  • A new law that allows felons to vote before completing their sentences—this violates the Minnesota Constitution.
  • An anti-speech election law that gives Attorney General Keith Ellison the power to sue citizens for what he deems to be false speech—including the statement that those who haven’t finished their felony sentences are not allowed to vote under the Minnesota Constitution.
  • Another anti-speech law that makes it illegal to wear political clothing to the polls, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision against a similar Minnesota law just a few years ago;
  • A law that shuts down virtually all corporate political donations while exempting donations from DFL-friendly labor unions.
  • An agency rule requires Minnesota teachers to forsake their religious convictions and affirms children’s chosen gender identities to become licensed teachers.
  • And new gun laws that violate the Second Amendment.

These are just a handful of the many constitutionally questionable laws passed by the left-wing majority in St. Paul. Minnesota’s Trifecta has openly sought to turn Minnesota into a laboratory for hardline policies more progressive than California and New York combined. And when they say “progressive,” it might as well mean “illegal and unconstitutional,” as the laws they are passing show.

And sometimes, the laws they pass are simply harmful and will create injustice for the most vulnerable among us along with further legal questions. To talk more about those issues, especially those concerning life, the family, and equality under the law, we will be joined in the second part of this episode by Renee Carlson, General Counsel of True North Legal and Minnesota Family Council.

The Upper Midwest Law Center is the only backstop against this radical left agenda in Minnesota. However, we still need your help to fight back in court. As a non-profit public interest law firm, we depend on your support to fund lawyers, research, and legal action. Every dollar helps, whether it’s $5 or $5,000. Your contribution goes directly toward fighting for the principles and values that matter to us all.

You can learn more about the Upper Midwest Law Center by visiting umlc.org, and you can make a confidential, tax-deductible donation online or by sending us a check to 8421 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 300, Golden Valley, MN 55426. And we urge you to do that.

This is a transcript from the Upper Midwest Law Center’s Minnesota Law Weekly podcast, lightly edited for brevity and clarity. Subscribe to the podcast here.


James Dickey