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Email threats to candidates in White Bear Lake prompt proposed change in election law

Three candidates in White Bear Lake last year received threatening emails suggesting they withdraw from a city race. But when authorities investigated, they found that such threats apparently aren’t illegal under current state law.

After filing for office last summer, three candidates for city office in White Bear Lake received threatening emails suggesting that they withdraw from the race — or else.

But when authorities investigated, it was determined that such threats apparently aren’t illegal under current state law.

So in response, a bill — sponsored by state Sen. Sandy Rummel, who represents White Bear Lake — will be introduced soon after the Legislature begin its session today. If passed, themeasure would make it a violation of election law to threaten candidates with reprisals.

The anonymous emailer accused mayoral candidate Jo Emerson and council candidates Kevin Edberg and Doug Biehn of being “cronies” of the outgoing mayor and a council member.

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Said the email:

“We will publish each of these cronies’ personal, financial, business and family backgrounds in the near future, unless of course one or more formally withdraws their candidacy.”

Emerson — who would go on to be elected mayor last November — wasn’t intimidated, too much.

“It made me pause for a minute, although first I thought it’s got to be a joke,” she said. “It didn’t stop me from running, but it’s the kind of thing that throws you off your pace a bit.”

She turned the email over to police, but ultimately authorities decided there was little to be done.

Joe Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager, said at the time that Minnesota law doesn’t speak to cases of someone trying to force another person not to run for office. But there are provisions in the law making it illegal to persuade a citizen from voting for or against a candidate; or to reward someone for not running.

The exact wording of Statute 211B.10:

Subdivision 1. Inducing or refraining from candidacy.
A person may not reward or promise to reward another in any manner to induce the person to be or refrain from or cease being a candidate. A person may not solicit or receive a payment, promise, or reward from another for this purpose.

Authorities were able to track the emailer’s address, but the domain registration company wouldn’t reveal account information.

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“We have our suspicions [about who was responsible for the email] but the provider wouldn’t provide the name. If charges could have been filed, it might have been easier to get the information,” Emerson said.

Rummel said the proposed change to the law is simple: it would add four words — “or threaten reprisal against” — to the first sentence in the existing law.

“One of the things we want is a citizen Legislature, and we want to encourage people to run for office who have the background and credentials to do so,” Rummel said. “But if they fear someone will do something to hurt them, they may be discouraged from running and that would deny us access to real talented people.”

She said such threats to candidates aren’t common, or if they are, they haven’t been publicized.

“I admire Jo Emerson for making an issue of this and going to the police,” Rummel said. “It’s odd that the law says someone doing it can’t pay you to run, or pay you not to run, but is silent about threatening people.”

Emerson said she didn’t push for the law change, but thinks it’s a good idea.

“Sandy came up to me right before I was being sworn into office and let me know she was introducing the legislation,” Emerson said. “I know there are lots more important things that need to be done at the Legislature, but I hope they can deal with this. I can’t imagine anyone objecting.”