The Republican Party of Minnesota complicates the simple. Again.

MinnPost file photo by Brian Halliday
Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey told reporters at the Minnesota State Fair the party “forgot” to elect alternate presidential electors at the state convention earlier this year.

For an election to be successful, a campaign or political party needs to complete a series of tasks to ensure its candidate can win. Some of those tasks are difficult, like making sure the campaign raises the necessary money to run a credible effort. But some should be easy, like ensuring the name of your candidate for office is actually listed on the ballot.

Yet Republicans in Minnesota have found a way to complicate that seemingly simple task — and in the process have perfectly encapsulated why the GOP has struggled so mightily in statewide races in Minnesota in recent years.

It all started a little more than two weeks ago, when the secretary of state’s office released the sample ballot for general election online and two rather prominent names were missing: Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence.

Before we get to how those names went missing, you should know that Minnesota’s two major political parties  — the Republican Party and the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party (DFL) — have a big advantage over minor political parties in ensuring their candidates appear on the ballot. Rather than having to submit thousands of signatures from eligible voters, the DFL and GOP simply need to provide the Secretary of State with three sets of names: the party’s candidates for president and vice-president; the ten people nominated as presidential electors; and the ten people nominated as alternate presidential electors.

But that last requirement apparently proved to be too complicated for the GOP. As Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey told reporters at the Minnesota State Fair, the party “forgot” to elect alternate presidential electors at the state convention earlier this year.

Then, after being notified that they had failed to provide the names of alternative electors by the Secretary of State’s office, Republicans decided to appoint alternate electors in a closed-door meeting — rather than electing them.

But that could be problematic too. James Carson, the Chair of the Republican Party in Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District, said that based on the wording of Minnesota Statutes 208.03, which outlines how presidential electors are to be selected, “it is likely none of the Republican electors were legally elected.”

That sentiment was echoed by another Republican official I talked to, someone who requested anonymity because they’ve publicly endorsed Trump’s candidacy. The official said that the party should prepare for a lawsuit over how Trump’s name was placed on the ballot and whether the process complied with the state law. “It was bungled and botched,” the official said. “Their fix won’t work.”

Why does any of this matter, given that Trump isn’t likely to win Minnesota, anyway? The most obvious reason is that Trump’s placement at the top of the ballot — or his absence — could impact other elections in Minnesota. Polling conducted by media outlets has show that while Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead over Trump in the Twin Cities metro area, Trump performs stronger against Clinton in rural Minnesota, and could potentially draw more Republicans to the polls there. “There is no doubt Mr. Trump is performing strongly in Greater Minnesota, specifically the Iron Range, where past nominees have struggled to connect with working class, anti-establishment voters,” said Mike Lukach, who serves as Trump’s state campaign director in Minnesota.

But it also matters because it says something about how effectively the state’s Republican Party is, or isn’t, working with its presidential nominee. 

Jill Vujovich-Laabs, a Republican activist and campaign operative in Minnesota who has long supported Trump, says she simply wants to see the party in Minnesota do more to support Trump’s candidacy. In addition to the ballot issue, she noted, the Republican Party of Minnesota did not order enough Trump campaign buttons to sell at the Minnesota State Fair, and she also questioned why the Republican Party of Minnesota waited days to respond to the behavior of protesters at Trump’s campaign event in Minneapolis last month. 

“I think there is a lack of cohesion between Republicans, which has caused splintering in the party,” said Vujovich-Laabs, who added, “I think all of these mistakes are evidence of this.” 

Michael Brodkorb is a writer, communications consultant and former deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota.

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Theo Kozel on 09/08/2016 - 01:05 pm.

    One other important point

    Another dimension to this story is that Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, strongly implied that the Secretary of State was at fault rather than his own organization. Of course, the SOS is a Democrat and blaming the ‘other side’ for everything you do wrong seems to work on most occasions. I don’t think it worked this time, and once again shows a serious lack of integrity:

    http://www.twincities.com/2016/08/25/donald-trump-minnesota-not-on-ballot-until-thursday-why/

    “Until this week I was not aware that the secretary of state wouldn’t place our candidates on the ballot, even though that paperwork was submitted completely, until the electors were finalized.”

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/08/2016 - 01:10 pm.

    The party is the party

    I’d say the MN GOP’s competency on this issue is pretty indicative of their overall competence at and interest on governing both at the state & federal levels. Perhaps Trump is doing us the favor of forcing them to rebuild from the ground up.

  3. Submitted by James Carson on 09/08/2016 - 09:24 pm.

    Michael, your characterization of my comment to you is misleading. I was being sarcastic. I also told you several times that this whole thing doesn’t even amount to a kerfuffle. It’s a nothing-burger. I regret giving you the time of day.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/09/2016 - 10:17 am.

      Sarcasm

      Trump keeps saying that the ridiculous things he says is “sarcasm.” Maybe, when talking to the media, you shouldn’t use sarcasm if you want your real meaning to be conveyed.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2016 - 06:37 am.

    Soviet style elections

    I see according to the morning paper that the DFL has asked that a major presidential candidate who millions of Minnesotans want to vote for be removed from the ballot. This is, of course, a wrong and immoral choice. It is the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party which has historically attacked the right of Americans to vote. The DFL’s action violates that tradition.

    In America, voting includes the right to vote. The DFL’s action in trying to take away the right to vote, even for someone as obnoxious as Donald Trump, is an attack on our country and our democracy. It should be stopped and it must fail.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/09/2016 - 09:01 am.

      Completely incorrect

      People would still be able to go to the polls and cast a ballot for Donald Trump. The only inconvenience would be the person voting would have to write in Trump’s name instead of filling in a circle. Nobody would be disenfranchised; all eligible voters would still get a ballot.

      Between this and the Bob Barrett debacle it shows that the Minnesota Republican Party either doesn’t understand election law or doesn’t care to follow it.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2016 - 09:36 am.

        The only inconvenience would be the person voting would have to write in Trump’s name instead of filling in a circle.

        Our party who complains angrily and correctly about the requirement of voter ID is ok with the inconvenience of forcing Republicans, the party of Lincoln, to write in their candidate? The blatancy of the hypocrisy would be beyond evaluation.

        The thing is, this is a total loser in court. Who is counseling DFL leadership? Why do they feel able to waste contributor dollars in ways that undermine the principles for which our party fights and stands? How did we get to be so dumb? Is Trumpism contagious?

        • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/09/2016 - 10:54 am.

          The suit is to embarrass the Republican Party

          I imagine this will go to court and the worst that would happen is the judge orders the Republican Party to hold a special meeting to elect their reserve presidential electors.

    • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 09/09/2016 - 09:44 am.

      Nobody is being denied

      The right to vote for Trump is still available. One can always write in a name.

      The Soviet style seems to be the Republican way. After all, it was the central committee that appointed the alternates instead of them being elected at the convention as they should have been according to law.

      Throwing aside our election laws because of gross incompetence and malfeasance by the Republicans is a threat to democracy and our country.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/09/2016 - 10:29 am.

      Perhaps

      This does seem like a pretty minor thing–a nothingburger with a side of bupkes. Frankly, unless something odd comes up, I think most of us forget that parties do list living, breathing people to be presidential electors.

      Would the Republicans hesitate for one minute to bring suit if the Democrats had made a similar error? And how does this take away the right to vote? It takes someone off the ballot, but there is no “right” to be listed as a candidate.

    • Submitted by Theo Kozel on 09/09/2016 - 11:37 am.

      Spin

      “I see according to the morning paper that the DFL has asked that a major presidential candidate who millions of Minnesotans want to vote for be removed from the ballot” This is spin taken to an extreme. In actuality, the DFL is asking that we follow the same rules and procedures that both parties have been following election cycle after election cycle.

      This is a MN GOP mess up. No spin, no partisan blinders, no attempts to obfuscate or distract from the issue will change that fundamental fact. This year, the MN GOP was not able to follow the simple steps that it has followed in previous elections. In no way, shape, or form is this remotely similar to the GOP’s widespread voter suppression efforts.

  5. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/09/2016 - 08:22 am.

    Seems like…

    Seems like a convenient way to show contempt for Trump while still trying to keep the loyalty of the Trump supporters by blaming the Secretary of State. Does anyone else think this wasn’t entirely an accident?

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/09/2016 - 08:55 am.

    There is the drip, drip, drip incompetence

    In the dysfunctional GOP there is the steady drip, drip, drip of incompetence. They can’t follow the rules, they can’t make payments, they grossly overrun their budget, They don’t want to serve all the people, just the select few, Speaker Daubt only paid his taxes once it was brought to daylight that he was delinquent. Then magically he had enough money to pay the taxes he owed.

    I understand why the GOP doesn’t want to get Trumps name on the MN ballot as very few are able to endorse Trump, but they want everybody else to vote for him. Of course that doesn’t make any sense. It is the total lack of capable leadership at every level that has made the party totally dysfunctional. Every group of three people seem to think they are the party leaders and the way forward. How do they expect to run a state or a country when they can’t even run their own party. Everyone knows what they are against but no one can tell you what they are for beyond tax cuts and deregulation.

    At the national level Trump wants us to buy a pig in a poke because he doesn’t want to expose any of his secret plans to the bright light of day. He is a candidate without a plan because he only operates from what ever thought he has at the time and then changes it when he feels like it. There is the steady drip, drip, drip of incompetence.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/09/2016 - 09:35 am.

    My 2¢

    Technically, I’d guess that the DFL is correct, and filing a suit to prevent Trump from appearing on the ballot is probably the legal way to deal with the issue. That said, it doesn’t pass the smell test. Keeping Trump off the ballot might be legally correct, but it’s a major ethical mistake.

    It’s more than a little sad that Mr. Trump has ANY support worth measuring in a state that likes to think of itself as “smart,” but the candidate’s childish ignorance and petulance aside, he’s the official nominee of the Republican Party, and ought to be on the ballot. While Hiram Foster’s language may be a bit over-the-top, his point is well-taken. Trump’s name (and Pence’s, too) should appear on the ballot. If the DFL wants to make them pay for being sloppy or careless with election procedures, then… make them pay. Ask the court to fine the state GOP – a hefty amount, since this isn’t a trivial mistake – but the candidate’s name(s) should appear on the ballot

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/09/2016 - 10:26 am.

      Rare

      It’s rare that we disagree, but I do in this case. Well, at least partly. While I think the move by the DFL is a PR mistake (to put it nicely), I don’t think it’s an ethical mistake. It is MN statute that REQUIRES the rules to be followed for putting candidates on the ballot. Putting Trump on the ballot at this point would be illegal. Unless the legislature changes the law or a court (preferably the state supreme court) finds the law unenforceable, it must be followed by an officer of the state. Thus, the SOS has no authority to do anything BUT leave Trump off the ballot. If the GOP manages to get the rules bent without opposition, the rules will be bent in this case only. And when the DFL screws up, you know darn well that the GOP will sue. And if the DFL does not oppose this time, it’s possible that next time the rules won’t be bent for the DFL. So, precedent MUST be set right now for the law to be equally applied. While I don’t like it, I don’t want to have to write in my candidate next time because the GOP has the spine to use all the tools they have to win. And if the law is clarified now, it’s less likely EITHER party will screw up in the future.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2016 - 09:39 am.

    In the dysfunctional GOP there is the steady drip, drip, drip of incompetence.

    Far be it to comment specifically, on the internal operations of the other party. But in general, party structure and party competence is in decline. Certainly, embarking on this sure loser lawsuit doesn’t speak well for the competence and judgment of our party leadership. But this just puts another burden on the courts to save the members of both parties from the ineptness of our leaders, something that seems to be necessary, but is something which they shouldn’t have to do.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/09/2016 - 10:31 am.

      DFL

      The DFL isn’t my party any more than the GOP is. The DFL just happens to endorse candidates I like more often. The incompetence and arrogance of the DFL (and the DNC) is why I don’t donate to the party, but rather to candidates directly. Personally, I wouldn’t be at all bothered if both parties crash and Bern. That said, I think it’s essential for the DFL to put up legal opposition to the GOP bending the rules. Precedent must be set or the law changed, or next time, our nicey nicey will be used against us and it will be the candidate *I* want having to be written in, while the GOP gets away with it’s “accident” without consequence (did I mention that I don’t think it was really all that accidental?).

  9. Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 09/09/2016 - 10:21 am.

    Here’s the statute

    208.03 NOMINATION OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORS AND ALTERNATES.
    Presidential electors and alternates for the major political parties of this state shall be nominated by delegate conventions called and held under the supervision of the respective state central committees of the parties of this state. At least 71 days before the general election day the chair of the major political party shall certify to the secretary of state the names of the persons nominated as presidential electors, the names of persons nominated as alternate presidential electors, and the names of the party candidates for president and vice president. The chair shall also certify that the party candidates for president and vice president have no affidavit on file as a candidate for any office in this state at the ensuing general election.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2016 - 12:11 pm.

      The law

      In legal terms, I don’t know what the law is, but I do know the outcome of the proceeding will be that Trump will be on the ballot. That does raise the question of why the DFL is wasting money on a lawsuit which borders on the frivolous.

      More specifically, the case is a non starter from the beginning. Democrats like Martin or like me have no standing to involve ourselves in the internal machinations of a Republican Party to which we do not belong. No right we, as Democrats, have is in anyway affected by the GOP’s problems in selecting electors so the case needs to be thrown out immediately. Moving on to substance, note that the statute specifies time limits, but it doesn’t tell you what happens if the time limits aren’t met. Absent any unfairness, I can’t think of any practical reason why Trump’s name should be excluded from the ballot. I mean his nomination hasn’t come as a surprise to anyone, has it?

      The broader constitutional issues might even work to the DFL’s disadvantage. If, through some highly improbable perversion of law and justice, a major party candidate is excluded from the ballot, what’s to prevent this Supreme Court, newly sensitized to issues of voter rights, from throwing out the election results altogether, election results which will almost certainly favor the DFL?

      No, this whole lawsuit is someone’s dumb idea, which has somehow managed to evade the common sense filter which all important decisions should go through.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/09/2016 - 02:13 pm.

        Pretty Clear

        “More specifically, the case is a non starter from the beginning. Democrats like Martin or like me have no standing to involve ourselves in the internal machinations of a Republican Party to which we do not belong.” The challenge is brought by the party, and is to the placement on the ballot, not to the “internal machinations” of the Republican Party. The DFL clearly has standing, where an individual voter would not–it’s known as “competitive standing.” See, e.g., Drake v. Obama, 664 F.3d 774 (9th Cir. 2011) (Alan Keyes and his running mate, Wiley Drake, had standing as presidential and vice-presidential candidates to challenge President Obama’s eligibility to serve as President).

        “Moving on to substance, note that the statute specifies time limits, but it doesn’t tell you what happens if the time limits aren’t met.” The time limits are the limits within which action must be taken to place a candidate on the ballot. If the action is not done within the specified time, the candidate is not listed.

        “Absent any unfairness, I can’t think of any practical reason why Trump’s name should be excluded from the ballot. ” Apart from the failure to follow very clear legal requirements? No, no reason.

        • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/09/2016 - 02:48 pm.

          Drake

          In the Drake case cited, the court held that the plaintiffs did not have standing.

          “If the action is not done within the specified time, the candidate is not listed.”

          That’s an argument you can make, but that isn’t what the statue says.

          ” Apart from the failure to follow very clear legal requirements?”

          How does this impact my rights? Since I am not voting for Trump, what interest do I have as to whether he is on the ballot? Read the Drake case.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/09/2016 - 03:56 pm.

            Ducks and Drakes

            “In the Drake case cited, the court held that the plaintiffs did not have standing.” My bad–the candidates would have had standing if they had filed their case before the election. The candidate plaintiffs lacked standing on justiciability grounds. Competitive standing is recognized by most courts.

            “That’s an argument you can make, but that isn’t what the statue says.” Yes, it kind of is. The statute sets out the procedure for putting a candidate on the ballot, and it sets out time limits for doing so. There is no alternate procedure.

            “How does this impact my rights?” It doesn’t, and no one said it did. You aren’t the one whose eligibility to bring suit is being questioned.

            • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/10/2016 - 06:28 am.

              y bad–the candidates would have had standing if they had filed their case before the election.

              That wasn’t the holding of the case. And the Drake case dealt with the qualifications of the candidates, not the internal operations of the party. I simply do not see how I as a Democrat, have any interest at all how the Republican Party does business. Certainly, I wouldn’t allow the Republicans any role in how my party does business.

              “Yes, it kind of is.”

              Kind of doesn’t cut it. The statute doesn’t set out a procedure for depriving Minnesota Republicans of their right to vote for president should obscure party functionaries mess up highly procuddural matters. Was it the choice of the legislature to leave such a fundamental attack on our democracy to the courts?

              “You aren’t the one whose eligibility to bring suit is being questioned.”

              I am a Democrat. Ken Martin works for me. Certainly my eligibility to bring a suit, one in this case, doesn’t affect any right I have, is being questioned.

              • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/12/2016 - 02:04 pm.

                Well, Now

                In between reading between the lines of judicial opinions, and employing contemporary colloquialisms, I neglected to ask the big question:

                Is the state supposed to excuse all errors in submitting a candidate’s name, in order to preserve the “right” to vote for anyone? Who gets to decide which duly enacted laws may be overlooked?

                “I am a Democrat. Ken Martin works for me.” No, he works for the DFL. Do you have some control over party operations? “Certainly my eligibility to bring a suit, one in this case, doesn’t affect any right I have, is being questioned.” You, Hiram Foster, are not bringing a suit. If you were running for President, and qualified to have your name placed on the ballot, you could bring such a suit.

  10. Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 09/09/2016 - 10:34 am.

    The law is the law

    Where does it stop? Which laws do I get to ignore? Can I now vote twice? Or is it only Republicans who get to blatantly defy statute?

  11. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/09/2016 - 11:18 am.

    The DFL lawsuit

    is a strategic error. Win or lose, it simply fuels the Trump campaign’s “the fix is in” meme in the minds of his supporters and, perhaps, in the minds of any undecided still wandering the streets in search of a candidate. (I suggest the latter simply ignore the presidential election at this point. If you think the choice is that difficult you’ll be disappointed no matter whom you vote for.)

  12. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/10/2016 - 05:43 pm.

    All is legal in love War and politics

    If its OK for the republican leaning congress to do everything in their power to regurgitate settled cases y the FBI etc. etc. etc. and try to again and again, and again, keep the BS in the public eye, I have no problem fighting fire with fire! The ethics in this election were long gone before it started.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/11/2016 - 06:31 am.

    If its OK for the republican leaning congress to do everything in their power to regurgitate settled cases y the FBI etc. etc. etc. and try to again and again, and again, keep the BS in the public eye, I have no problem fighting fire with fire!

    I don’t think a lot of stuff Republicans do is OK, and if I thought emulating Republicans was a good idea I would become one. Denying voting rights is a Republican thing to do, and one of the many reasons I am a Democrat is that I am against it.

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/12/2016 - 06:29 am.

    Events

    Rarely do events prove me so right so quickly. If for some reason, at a very late stage of the campaign, Hillary’s name had to be removed from the ballot, we should have the right to replace her no matter what technical provisions of the Minnesota Statutes might say.

    People have a right to vote, and that means having major candidates on the ballot. It is as simple as that.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/12/2016 - 09:41 am.

      Inded

      And isn’t that possibility a bit more than academic today?

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/12/2016 - 01:40 pm.

      At this stage

      Even if she died (-eyeroll for the conspiracy theorists here-), her name probably wouldn’t be removed from the ballot. So, there’s that. What’s fair and what’s law are often two very different things. In short, life’s not fair. Take it up with your elected leadership.

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