Thursday, October 21, 2004
Playing Games with Election Judges
Responding to a Minnesota Republican Party petition over the partisan balance of workers at polling places, the state Supreme Court on Monday ordered election officials in three counties to list party affiliations of their election judges in a secret submission to the court.
The lists from Hennepin, Olmsted and Ramsey counties will form a key basis for oral arguments before the court, set for 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul.
Republicans contend that their own investigations have shown that most election judges in Hennepin and Ramsey counties are DFLers while most of those in Olmsted are Republicans. State law requires that no more than half of the judges in any election precinct come from the same major political party.
Minnesota, however, does not register voters by political party. The high court asked the county auditors to explain how party affiliations of election judges were determined. In addition, the court asked the auditors to state whether the requirement for party balance of election judges had been met in each precinct and, if not, the reasons why.
According to the court's order, signed by Associate Justice Alan Page, the submissions, along with written responses to the GOP petition, are due at the court by noon Wednesday.
The Republican petition seeks the release of the names and party affiliations of election judges as public information under the state Data Practices Act. And it asks the court to order election officials to ensure partisan balance of election judges in all precincts.
Joe Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager, said Monday that his office is "fully in compliance with the letter of the law in every precinct in St. Paul." But he also said that achieving party balance is problematic. Election judges are recruited from lists provided by the parties, he said, but the lists "are almost inevitably inadequate."
For example, he said, a list of 160 St. Paul residents provided by the GOP yielded only 50 people willing work on Election Day, when 400 Republican judges are needed. "We end up recruiting on our own," Mansky said.
Minnesota's 4,000 election precincts each need three to 16 election judges who rule on voter eligibility at the polls and assist in ballot counting.