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GOP senators file complaint over Mark Ritchie’s voting amendment actions

MinnPost photo by James Nord
Sens. Mike Parry and Scott Newman, with GOP attorney Fritz Knaak ,center, outline a complaint Parry and Newman filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings on Thursday against Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Adding to the controversy surrounding Minnesota’s voting amendment, two GOP senators on Thursday filed an administrative complaint against Secretary of State Mark Ritchie that alleges he has acted improperly as an elected official and is attempting to mislead voters.

Sens. Scott Newman and Mike Parry filed the complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings, which handles such matters. They allege that:

• Ritchie is providing inaccurate and biased information to voters about the potential costs and effects of the amendment.

• He has acted in his official capacity as secretary of state to oppose the amendment.

• He and his staff are using public funds to campaign against the amendment.

“It is my position that Secretary of State Ritchie has used his office … to try to influence the outcome of this ballot initiative,” said Newman, who was the amendment’s chief Senate author. “It is our position that he has violated [campaign] laws.”

Ritchie’s office issued a brief statement Thursday afternoon: “Secretary of State Mark Ritchie does not comment on litigation. ‘I continue to work closely with local elections officials to ensure that the 2012 General Election is efficient and accurate.’ “

Fritz Knaak, a former legislator and GOP attorney representing the two senators, said he expects the hearings office to convene an expedited probable-cause hearing soon. Depending on the outcome of the process, Ritchie could face fines or criminal charges.

Neither the Senate Republican Caucus nor state tax dollars are paying for Knaak’s services, Newman said, but he wouldn’t elaborate on whether the two senators were paying for the attorney’s fees.

Parry and Newman argue in the 50-page complaint [PDF] that documents on the secretary of state’s website ostensibly meant to educate voters about the amendment’s potential effects on voting procedures are actually a veiled attempt to drum up opposition to the ballot question.

Ritchie has repeatedly expressed concerns that Election Day registration as Minnesotans know it could end, and that certain language in the amendment could significantly inhibit absentee voting. He also has raised concerns about the potential costs to implement the amendment.

Amendment advocates, including Newman, repeatedly have assured voters and other lawmakers that the legislative intent is not to end same-day registration or disenfranchise voters. He also disputed Ritchie’s cost estimates.

Answers to many of the questions about specific provisions and costs of the constitutional amendment would have to be provided by the next Legislature, if the measure passes.

Newman said he expects the hearing’s office to “do a very, very thorough job.”

The two senators also allege that Ritchie — while on at least six trips across Minnesota on official state business — met with newspaper editors “to campaign against passage of the amendment.”

The specific amount of public resources Ritchie used — such as state vehicles, hotel reimbursements and compensation — is currently unknown because Ritchie “refuses to adhere to Minnesota’s Data Practices Act,” according to a press release that accompanied Thursday’s announcement. 

If Ritchie were acting personally — and not as a public official — he would have to register a Ballot Question Committee with the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, they said.

The complaint also includes a letter Ritchie sent to a veterans-related group on his letterhead as evidence that he used his official capacity as secretary of state to campaign against the amendment.

The letter, which invites the group to learn more about the amendment, came with several attachments, including a document titled “Impact on Overseas and Military Voters of the Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Restrict Voting Rights.”

The last line of that letter reads: “Minnesota voters can veto this bill and send it back to the legislature by voting ‘no’ on November 6.”

Parry was unwilling to say if the senators would attempt to recall Ritchie as the hearing process plays out, but said, “No, we’re not” ready to take it off the table. Parry has made similar comments in the past. Ritchie isn’t up for re-election until 2014.

Parry is leaving the Legislature after a failed congressional bid in the 1st District. In summer, he convened a hearing of the Senate Government Innovation and Veterans Committee, which he chairs, to raise concerns about Ritchie’s attempts to rename the two constitutional amendments set to appear on the November ballot.

Neither Ritchie nor Attorney General Lori Swanson showed up to the July meeting.

“To me, that was arrogant on his part,” Parry said on Thursday, “not showing up.”

It’s unclear why the senators waited until a month before the elections to file their complaint, although Parry said he was busy campaigning up until the Minnesota’s Aug. 15 primary elections.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/04/2012 - 02:26 pm.

    Key phrases

    “could end; could inhibit; potential costs”

    These are clearly the phrases of opinion. Voters expect their SoS to provide facts.

    This, on the other hand is clearly electioneering on the taxpayers time and money:

    “Minnesota voters can veto this bill and send it back to the legislature by voting ‘no’ on November 6.”

    Ritchie has gone to outrageous lengths to please the leftist power brokers that put him in office. He has clearly abrogated his constitutional duties and dealt unfaithfully with the people of Minnesota, and it is high time he pay the price for that.

    Kudos to Sens Mike Parry and Scott Newman. It is reassuring to know there are a few conscientious public servants left.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/04/2012 - 03:22 pm.

    If anyone

    …would know about “arrogance,” I suspect it might be Senator Parry, though Senator Newman would probably make a short list, as well. It’s curious, the people Mr. Swift chooses to admire.

    As for Mr. Swift’s assertions, “…could end; could inhibit; potential costs,“ ARE statements of fact. The amendment proposal that I read COULD do all of those things. Unless Mr. Swift and the good Senators are prepared to publicly declare that no one could possibly be disenfranchised, that same-day voter registration could not possibly end, and that the costs of implementing the proposed amendment could not possibly increase, and thus be a burden on taxpayers, then the phrases quoted are as factual as any made by proponents of the amendment.

    Meanwhile, since I’ve only lived here 3+ years, and haven’t encountered any personally, I look forward to Mr. Swift’s naming of the “…leftist power brokers that put [Ritchie] in office.” I foolishly assumed that the majority of voters, twice, had elected him to office, but apparently Mr. Swift is privy to information not available to an ordinary citizen.

  3. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 10/04/2012 - 06:51 pm.

    Parry Newman and Knaak

    Larry, Moe and Curley. The GOP doesn’t believe in government interfering in your life, unless they think it should.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/04/2012 - 07:44 pm.

    The tactic is known as “intimidation”

    This “administrative complaint” is really a joke. But it is no laughing matter because it is intended to intimidate a public official, doing his job in informing voters about the probable and intended costs and results of the “voter ID amendment.” None of the laws cited in this administrative complaint comes near to making wrongful or unlawful what the complaint says Ritchie is doing wrong. As Secretary of State, a “constitutional office”, Mark Ritchie has a certain amount of authority and discretion to define his own job. If the complainants had the courage of their convictions, they would attempt a “Marbury v. Madison” type of lawsuit to raise the issue. They know, though that doing so would be to open themselves up to possible sanctions and penalties for filing a “frivolous lawsuit.” Much safer to go the administrative route, grab a few headlines, hope the thing is still floundering after the election and move on.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/04/2012 - 08:55 pm.

    Shorter Form of Parry/Newmann/Knaak

    “We’ve worked very hard to be sure the general public has no clue regarding all the ways we’re hoping to play games with Minnesota elections to be sure they turn out in our favor after we hoodwink the public into falling for the ‘Voter I.D.’ lie (you know, all the things we accused the Democrats of doing in the last two elections that they never actually did),…

    and we’ll dive, headfirst, into perdition before we’ll allow an elected officer of the State of Minnesota to run around the state telling the general public the truth we don’t want them to know!

    It is NOT the job of the Secretary of State to serve the general public by providing them with the best, most accurate information regarding this upcoming election.

    The ONLY purpose of the Secretary of State (as far as we’re concerned) is to serve the needs of the party in POWER in the legislature!


  6. Submitted by Pete Barrett on 10/04/2012 - 09:29 pm.

    A Swing I My Step

    Hey, I didn’t know I’m a Left Wing Power Broker. But thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment. I had thought I was just a US citizen that voted for Mark Ritchie.

    As for “coulds” in relation to the Voter Suppression Amendment, the legislators could have exempted seniors in nursing homes, as even the State of Mississippi did. Or they could have exempted overseas military and their families as other states have. But they didn’t.

    How does an Army Ranger in Afghanistan or a Marine on an aircraft carrier show that Minnesota-issued ID to an election judge in Minnesota?

    Given that this group leans Republican and they didn’t exempt them from the ID requirement, that speaks to the haphazard way this was rushed through.

  7. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 10/04/2012 - 11:42 pm.

    A Brave Secretary of State!

    Mark Ritchie has taken a highly principled stand to preserve the integrity of Minnesota’s elections while Republican legislators are going to once unimaginable lengths to restrict the right to vote in Minnesota. He is the state’s chief election officer and has both a right and a duty to inform Minnesotans about any effort to suppress voting in Minnesota – even if it is being done by legislators.

    No matter how Republicans try to spin it, I think most fair minded people who look beyond their rhetoric recognize that this proposed amendment is intended to make it harder for some citizens who usually don’t support Republican candidates to vote.

  8. Submitted by Clayton Haapala on 10/05/2012 - 12:00 am.


    Voters expect legislators to provide facts and clarity, too, but the partisan Voter ID bill did not. Most Minnesota do not have confidence in the outcome of voting for this a amendment for that reason, and it should fail.

  9. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/05/2012 - 02:35 pm.

    Corporate political donations

    Equal freedom of speech but the MN secretary of state has no right of freedom of speech regarding laws and proposed amendments on elections. What a profoundly ridiculous scenario.

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