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.