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On Challenging Election Results: Voters are owed explanations of election irregularities

From the column: "We the people are supposed to ultimately hold the power: not the courts, not the elected officials, not the government."

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“MN Statute Chapter 209, Election Contest” provides a legal vehicle whereby “(a)ny eligible voter, including a candidate, may contest … the nomination or election of any person for whom the voter had the right to vote.” An election contest may be “brought over an irregularity in the conduct of an election or canvass of votes, over the question of who received the largest number of votes legally cast, … or on the grounds of deliberate, serious, and material violations of the Minnesota Election Law.”

What is an irregularity? Would extra votes be considered an irregularity? Would finding more votes during a precinct recount be an irregularity? Would having more than 45,000 votes not attached to a voter-identification requirement be an irregularity? Would having the main absentee-ballot board statute (MN Statute 203B.121) be completely ignored by the very city that was to establish the absentee-ballot board be an irregularity? Would not having a complete chain of custody from several locations (for example, nursing homes, group homes, and drop boxes) around the city of Duluth to the City Clerk’s office be an irregularity? What about nursing home staff filling out votes for residents?

Those are all irregularities, any one of which is enough to file an “Election Contest.”

The initial Election Contest in my race for Minnesota Senate was filed with the 6th Judicial District Court. When the case was filed, the Duluth court administrator informed me that an Election Contest had never been filed before. As such, court administration was “unfamiliar” with statutory requirements and “how to proceed.”

The district court should have acted in an administrative-hearing role, as the statute intends. Allegations of election irregularities were never looked at during the court hearing, nor were we, the contestants, afforded the procedures specified by the statute, such as guarding ballots, inspecting ballots, and gathering evidence. The case was tossed out on procedure, not on merit.

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The next step was appealing the district court decision directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Chapter 209.10 Subd. 4 specifies that “(t)he appeal from an election contest relating to the office of state senator … takes precedence over all other matters before the Supreme Court.” Yet it took from Feb. 15 until June 9 for the Minnesota Supreme Court to rule. Not exactly taking precedence. When the courts missed deadlines, those infractions were ignored. When the candidates miss a deadline, they are penalized.

Election irregularities are legitimate concerns for which we, the voters of Duluth, are owed an explanation. Every illegitimate vote cast takes away a legitimate vote. Would you want your vote canceled out? You deserve better. We all deserve fair elections. As my mother would say, if you have nothing to hide, show me your hands.

Filing my Minnesota Supreme Court case pro se was a move I felt needed to be done. I believe in the Constitution and its guarantees. I only approached the courts after contacting the City Clerk’s office prior to the election regarding ballot-board conformity, attending in-person the St. Louis County Canvassing Board post-election certification, and emailing and phoning my concerns to the Secretary of State post-election canvassing board — all of which was to no avail. (The Minnesota Secretary of State certified the election with only about 40% of the votes verified.)

We the people are supposed to ultimately hold the power: not the courts, not the elected officials, not the government. Election integrity was subordinate to political expedience with no regard to the very real threat to the sanctity of the democratic process. My decision to shed light on election irregularities by going to the court was a recognition of the stricture that exists in a one-party city. With changes, we will not need to do this again — but I would.

Donna Bergstrom of Duluth was a candidate for Minnesota Senate in the November election. She unsuccessfully challenged the election’s result to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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Minnesota Senate District 7 Republican candidate Donna Bergstrom

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