Courts uphold November election results in Duluth

Two separate courts find insufficient grounds to challenge election procedures or outcomes.

bergstrom mcewen 2020.jpg
Donna Bergstrom and Jen McEwen

The results of the November election have been affirmed twice this week: The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday denied an appeal by the Minnesota Voters Alliance and the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a separate challenge from District 7 Senate candidate Donna Bergstrom on Wednesday.

Bergstrom cited "irregularities" in the Nov. 3 election and claimed they raised questions as to which candidate received the most legally cast votes. According to election records, Bergstrom received 31.5% of the vote, compared with her opponent, Jen McEwen, who won the Senate seat with 68.3% of the vote.

In January, 6th District Judge Eric Hylden ruled that Bergstrom's claims of irregularities fell short of an assertion that she was the actual election victor, writing that "the vague feeling that something was not right" with the election "is not enough to move forward" with the case.

The Supreme Court concurred, citing Christensen v. Allen and stating that even if irregularities could be proven, "there must be a 'plain statement showing that the contestant is entitled to a decree changing the declared result of the election.'" The court noted that same standard "has been the law for election contests for over 150 years."

At the end of their analysis, the Supreme Court justices wrote: "We are confident that the will of the voters in Senate District 7 is accurately reflected in the result that has been upheld through multiple reviews of the ballots cast in that election."


PREVIOUSLY: McEwen elected to Senate; Duluth reps hold onto seats DFL candidates swept Duluth's legislative races.
Bergstrom expressed disappointment with the court's decision and said she felt she had a strong evidence-based case. In an email response, Bergstrom said she is reviewing her options, including a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McEwen did not respond to the News Tribune's requests for comment. Kate Van Daele, public information officer for the city of Duluth, said city officials, too, declined comment on the decision.

In the other election challenge brought by the Minnesota Voters Alliance, the group disputed the handling of absentee ballots by the city of Duluth and St. Louis County. Also named in the suit were Ramsey and Olmsted counties. A similar suit also was brought against the city of Minneapolis.

The alliance sought a writ of mandamus, ordering government officials to properly fulfill their official duties and correct an abuse of authority.

The suit claimed the offending jurisdictions violated Minnesota's election laws in three ways: "(1) by failing to exhaust major-political-party lists of potential election judges when appointing deputies to the absentee ballot boards, (2) by not appointing 'bona fide' deputy county auditors and deputy city clerks to the absentee ballot boards, and (3) by failing to obtain a statement of party affiliation from the deputies appointed by respondents to the absentee ballot boards."

The Minnesota Court of Appeals disagreed, writing: "Because appellants failed to establish that respondents violated an official duty clearly imposed by law, they have not satisfied the first requirement for a writ of mandamus."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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