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Yeah, the DFL’s lawsuit to bar Trump from the ballot is kind of dumb. Here’s why they’re doing it

REUTERS/Mike Segar
The DFL has gone to the Minnesota Supreme Court to get the name of Donald Trump, above, and his running mate, Mike Pence, removed from the ballot.

Minnesota isn’t a swing state in the presidential election, but it has been thrust into the presidential campaign thanks to the DFL’s decision to file a legal challenge over the process used by the Republican Party of Minnesota in placing Donald Trump’s name on the ballot.

The DFL has gone to the Minnesota Supreme Court to get the name of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, removed from the ballot, which would guarantee their nominee, Hillary Clinton, would continue the Democrats’ 44-year presidential winning streak in Minnesota. And while the parties’ lawyers are arguing it out before the court, the two parties chairs are waging a parallel public relations battle that offers some sense of how hard it is to be the head of a political party.

For one thing, among the basic requirements for the job is to launch partisan hand-grenades at your opponent without mercy. That’s because the party chairs don’t answer to voters. They’re elected by an elite group of activists — people who enjoy the back-and-forth political bickering that the average voter detests. 

As a party chair, it’s also your responsibility to police the activities of your rival and — if necessary — file legal challenges to determine if they have followed the law. Politics ain’t a tickle competition.

In this case, whatever the legal merits of the suit, the DFL finds itself in a tough position. They really had no choice but to challenge Trump’s placement on the ballot in Minnesota. It’s well within the bounds of partisan politics, and if the roles were reversed, I have no doubt Republicans would have filed lawsuit to challenge the placement of Clinton on the ballot.

In a statement announcing their legal challenge to Trump being placed on the ballot, Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota DFL, said that political parties need “to follow the rules.” Everyone should follow the rules — especially political parties and politicians. Who could disagree with that?

Not even Republicans, it turns out. Though the Minnesota GOP has only itself to blame for the controversy, their public response to the lawsuit has been smart. Instead of focusing on the legal arguments for keeping Trump on the ballot, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey has focused on a much more basic virtue — fairness — claiming the DFL is attempting to “rig the election” by going to court to remove Trump from the ballot. He has labeled the legal maneuver a “blatant and frivolous attempt to disenfranchise so many Minnesota voters,” added that he believes the move will “backfire” on Democrats. 

By casting the DFL’s move as an attempt to “disenfranchise” voters, the Republicans have wisely appealed to Minnesota’s rich history of civic engagement and high voter turnout. Instead of defending their own incompetence, they’re now defending the right of voters to cast their ballot this November. 

Whichever way it goes, the legal drama isn’t expected to last much longer, even if the verbal sparring between Democrats and Republicans will. In their filing, lawyers representing Secretary of State Steve Simon told the court that they would like a decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court by Monday. According to Simon’s office, at least one million ballots had already been printed and time would be needed to reprint ballots.

Comments (50)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 09/12/2016 - 11:47 am.


    Pure and simple gamesmanship by DFL, apparently in check by the MN Republicans. Two articles on this now. Can we please get on with greater substance?

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/12/2016 - 12:20 pm.

    “They really had no choice but to challenge Trump’s placement on the ballot in Minnesota. It’s well within the bounds of partisan politics, and if the roles were reversed, I have no doubt Republicans would have filed lawsuit to challenge the placement of Clinton on the ballot.”

    Well, of course, they did have a choice. They just weren’t thinking. I have no problem with attacking Trump as strongly as possible, but it isn’t Trump who is victimized, it’s Minnesota voters who after all have done nothing wrong here.

    What the DFL leadership has done is attack our democracy in the most fundamental way possible. This should be considered way beyond the bounds of partisan politics or basic decency really. The only argument I would make on their behalf is that buried as they are in some partisan bunker someplace, they haven’t given any thought to the larger issues involved. Most grievously they haven’t given any thought to the horrific precedent they are seeking to set.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/12/2016 - 12:49 pm.

      Au contraire

      …Mr. Foster.

      There’s certainly a “gamesmanship” aspect to all this, but not a single Minnesotan will be denied the right to vote because of this lawsuit, and it’s rather far removed from any sort of “fundamental attack” on our democracy. The only “horrific precedent” the DFL is advancing in this case is the quaint notion that the Minnesota GOP should follow the law, which even party leaders admit they failed to do..

      That’s not too hard to understand, is it?

      Yes, the DFL chose to file the suit, but as Mr. Brodkorb has pointed out, the alternative would be to allow the GOP to ignore the election law, which strikes me as a much more “fundamental attack” on our democracy than filing a lawsuit, and surely no law-abiding citizen would go along with a political party that ignores the laws it finds inconvenient and only pays attention to the ones that suit its purposes. This is, after all, supposed to be a society of laws, not personalities

      I expect that, after an appropriate mea culpa, Mr. Trump’s name will be restored and ballots printed as usual, thus reducing this conflict to the trivia files it deserves, but even if Trump is left off the ballot, there’s nothing to prevent me, you, and anyone else who’s a registered voter in the state from writing Mr. Trump’s name in on the ballot in November if they choose to do so.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 09/12/2016 - 12:21 pm.


    Is how the game is played. And no one will be prevented from voting for Trump. All they have to do is write in his name and that shouldn’t be that difficult.

    But there is a serious issue here. There is a law that the spells out the requirements to get on the ballot. If the requirements aren’t met, should a judge say that’s ok? Which requirements are ok to ignore and which absolutely have to be followed? What if a candidate has “almost” enough signatures on their petition?

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/12/2016 - 12:42 pm.


      It’s how the game is played badly. I would cite two basic reasons why this is a mistake.

      First, the suit is a total loser. The Supreme Court of Minnesota s not going to take the right of a million Minnesotans to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice, just because some intern at GOP headquarters failed to file the proper sheet of paper. I have no doubt the capable lawyers who represent the DFL leadership advised them of that and that as result the money, desperately needed elsewhere by the way, spent on this frivolous suit would be totally wasted.

      Secondly, it’s contrary to the principles of the Democratic Party. We are the party that advocates strongly and I believe correctly, that the right to vote must be protected and expanded. We oppose the creation of voting barriers, as a direct interference with the vote. That being the case, how can advocate the limitation of the right to vote in Minnesota without opening ourselves to charges of hypocrisy? What would we say if, through some perversion of justice this suit succeeds, to Republican charges that we are trying to rig the election? Charges, I guarantee you they are eager to make, both here an nationally, the moment the court comes with that ruling.

      James Callaghan, a British politician once compared a party which was seeking an early election they would lose, to turkeys voting for an early Thanksgiving. Today, Ken Martin is the turkey and strangely he seems to be doing all in his power to move Thanksgiving up to November 8th, perhaps while weirdly pretending to himself that he has no choice.

      • Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 09/12/2016 - 01:28 pm.

        It wasn’t an Intern & a Piece of Paper

        It was the Republican convention not electing alternate electors. Something that’s done every 4 years and should be automatic.

        Whoever left that off the agenda deserves the main blame for this.

        • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/12/2016 - 02:05 pm.

          Whoever left that off the agenda deserves the main blame for this.

          Well, I am sure some intern is going to have his lunch money taken away as a punishment. But that addresses the issue as to whether the right to vote of a million Minnesotans should be taken away.

          Have you ever noticed that after every disastrous decision, the guy who made it always pops up and says “I had no choice.”?

          • Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/12/2016 - 03:45 pm.

            How is a right being taken?

            Surely it is not your intention to argue that we should be allowed to vote for candidates who’s names are on the ballot illegally.

        • Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/12/2016 - 09:10 pm.

          The fact that such a simple ….

          Piece of paperwork was not done as it should have been might be an indication of how the party in question would govern ! As would it’s financial futility and the financial health of it candidates.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 09/12/2016 - 12:33 pm.

    Why would the DFL want to bar

    Minnesota voters the right to vote for Trump? Minnesota is in the Democratic column for President, that is not even up for debate. It seems like petty politics to file this challenge. That deplorable basket must be really bad to not even allow Minnesota residents the right to vote for Trump.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/12/2016 - 12:45 pm.

      The Deplorables

      Another point not mentioned is now Minnesota Republicans have to stand up for Donald Trump’s candidacy. No more weasel words, no more “I intend to vote for the nominee,” no more pretending he doesn’t exist. They are stuck with him, and they have to prove that he should be on the ballot.

      As has been noted, Minnesota voters are free to write in Trump’s name. Here’s a hint, though: the votes won’t be counted unless a request is filed in advance. One more darn thing to take responsibility for!

  5. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/12/2016 - 12:44 pm.

    Why are they printing ballots two months early?

    That seems unnecessary and opens them up to expense if things change before an election.

  6. Submitted by Mike Downing on 09/12/2016 - 12:45 pm.

    DFL Hypocrisy in full view…

    The DFL is against what all other developed and developing countries use in voting, namely photo IDs. They say it is to not disenfranchise voters. Now the DFL wants to disenfranchise over 1 million voters. This is hypocrisy, nothing but pure unadulterated hypocrisy by the DFL!!!

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/12/2016 - 02:08 pm.

      The DFL is against what all other developed and developing countries use in voting, namely photo IDs.

      OF COURSE YOU ARE RIGHT!!! And the question I have is why doesn’t the DFL leadership see this hypocrisy argument, one I find completely convincing by the way, a mile away. I just don’t understand it.

      How can we stand up for the right to vote of only some voters? The voters we figure will go our way?

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 09/12/2016 - 11:42 pm.


        The old “we’ll be on the high road” argument that’s been the source of endless defeat for liberals, Democrats or otherwise. Here’s a tip, to the victor goes the spoils. Spine, spineless, it really doesn’t matter unless you win. While folks merrily skip along the “high road” waiting for the electorate to finally recognize how pure and noble they are, the underlayment of said road is being blasted out with dynamite by the opposition. They have no compunction towards the moral certitude you desire. They plan on our destruction. Perhaps one might consider such realities when political tactics are discussed. Then again, we could all just pine away for a misty eyed utopia where all is right and good and fair. On the other hand we could muck around in the grime, fight for and take the power necessary to bring it about. I know the course I’d prefer, but then I haven’t much use for a “high road” to defeat.

    • Submitted by Cameron Parkhurst on 09/12/2016 - 02:35 pm.

      Please be clear – nobody is being disenfranchised

      While it may be a questionable decision by the DFL to file suit to keep Trump/Pence off the ballot, nobody is losing the right to vote. Every GOP voter still has the right to vote. What might change is the selection of candidates for whom they can vote. That does not equal being disenfranchised.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/12/2016 - 02:35 pm.


      How is the right to vote being taken away from anyone? The right of a party to have a particular candidate on the ballot is being questioned–that isn’t “disenfranchising” anyone.

      Is the Prohibition Party on the ballot in Minnesota? Am I being disenfranchised?

      Does this mean you are opposed to voter ID laws, in the interests of full enfranchisement? Or is that goring the wrong ox?

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/12/2016 - 12:46 pm.

    The author?

    A former state Republican chair being asked to provide what I think is being presented as an objective analysis of why the DFL is challenging Trump’s position on the ballot. You must be kidding me. I’m guessing he tried his best – he did admit that Republicans would have done the same thing – but how could you think that is fair? Why not ask a college professor, who might be a bit more objective than anyone tightly aligned with one party or the other?

    I’d suggest that the DFL wanted to do this is to point out that the “law and order” party doesn’t understand that it also needs to follow the law. It is great to have people with limited political experience in the process, but they need to be informed about how things work.

    This “make it up as you go along” approach is oh so consistent with Trump, who hasn’t done his home work, cuts corners with the truth and doesn’t think the normal rules applies to someone as self important as him. Frankly, the Republican Party should have simply called as second convention and done it right – or at least admit is was a serious oversight on their part.

  8. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 09/12/2016 - 12:58 pm.

    Two considerations…

    First, this lawsuit continues to highlight the incompetence of the MN GOP – not long ago their gross financial mismanagement.

    Second, the GOP has no problem trying to disenfranchise voters as a part of their platform with voter ID laws and other shenanigans that make their party more competitive. And now suddenly they are worried about the rights of voters to select the candidate of their choice.

    I have not heard that this MN Statute for placing candidates is new, confusing or arduous. I assume that they have a team that is experienced in conventions and had planned all facets of the convention well in advance. I have not even heard any GOP leader take responsibility for their own fiasco. Maybe they should beg the DFL for mercy and promise to abandon their ongoing strategies to disenfranchise the old, young, poor and people of color as a peach offering!

  9. Submitted by John Ferman on 09/12/2016 - 01:07 pm.

    Re: The Aurhor

    Kudos to Joel for calling out the ‘non-news’ of the Brodkorb piece. Just publishing it signals me to take MinnPost with a huge grain of salt. And think twice when the next fundraise email comes through.

  10. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/12/2016 - 01:36 pm.

    Bad optics

    But the lawsuit is the right decision. It would be negligent NOT to file the suit. Actually, it would be downright incompetent if the suit wasn’t filed. You know dang well that the GOP will file a suit if the DFL did the same thing–without a firm legal outcome that sets precedent, the results could be “disenfranchisement” of DFL oriented voters, even if the GOP gets a pass this time. Yes, it’s disenfranchisement–anything that substantially negatively affects the ability of a nominally legal voter from voting is disenfranchisement. But, whether it’s legal or not should be decided by a court in this case. In fact, whether it’s against the law to include Trump on the ballot should actually be decided. It’s not like it’s just a party rule, it’s a state law. And not even a new one. Makes you wonder if it wasn’t accidentally on purpose…

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/12/2016 - 02:11 pm.

    Actually, it would be downright incompetent if the suit wasn’t filed.

    I actually disagree with this. In substantive terms, the lawsuit is without merit, something I am sure the DFL has been advised by it’s lawyers. It really is frivolous to the point where some judges might consider sanctions against the lawyers who bring it.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/12/2016 - 02:58 pm.


      you disagree. But it is your opinion. I highly doubt that it will be considered frivolous, let alone sanction anyone for it. It’s one of those cases where the wording of the law is quite clear, so it’s not like there’s a stretch in interpretation.

      What’s fascinating is that I’ve seen people in the past holler about how the DFL (and Democrats, in general) are such spineless wonders and how they should grow a spine and how they just fold and how they blahblahblah weak blah Democrats…and then they go “we don’t want to look like Republicans” when they grow a spine.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/12/2016 - 03:27 pm.


        To bad Ken Martin wasn’t possessed of a spine when someone broached this cockamamimie idea. Brodkorb’s claim that he had no choice, is exactly what folks always say when they are trying to duck a difficult issue.

        For a long time this country has been persuaded to do really stupid things by the argument that it was the brave thing to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow manage to stop that?

  12. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/12/2016 - 02:19 pm.

    Republicans and the election process

    The Republicans across the nation have done everything they can think of to politicize the election process. They are willing to truly disenfranchise people in order to avoid voter fraud when that has been shown to be almost nonexistent. In Minnesota they want to have judge candidates declare their political affiliation and endorse kooks like Michele MacDonald. So now they screw up, break the law and holler, “unfair” when the Dems do it back to them. Those are the hypocrites. Nobody is disenfranchised because they can always write in. Had the shoe been on the other foot the Republicans would have been all over this and everyone posting here knows it.

  13. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 09/12/2016 - 03:18 pm.

    What Other Remedy Exists?

    There is no question that the Minnesota Republican Party failed to properly certify its presidential candidates electors by the manner prescribed in law. However, there is no specific remedy in the statute for a political party that fails to certify its electors; leaving the candidate off the ballot seems to be what the Legislature intended by not providing a monetary civil penalty for failure to conform to the statute.

    I agree that punishing voters or a campaign for the hapless behavior of party leadership seems like overkill. But, what other remedy exists?

    There is nothing “frivolous” about the lawsuit! This is not a minor or technical violation or a new process that was just enacted. Both political parties are well aware of the requirement and the election of presidential electors is a routine function that parties conduct during their state convention. It is not a responsibility delegated of a nameless “intern” – it is a well established procedure that the parties are required to do. The Republican Party claims it “forgot” or “ran out of time” depending on who is making the excuse. Both excuses are laughable!

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/12/2016 - 03:28 pm.


      Not only does there appear to be no other remedy, but to ignore it lays a trap for any future “mistake” because the outcome is not predetermined. What happens next time when my (unelected) party chair accidentally on purpose forgets to do something that results in my preferred candidate from being on the ballot because the establishment is playing passive aggressive games?

  14. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/12/2016 - 04:24 pm.

    This is less about Trump than the down ballot races

    No one in the nation thinks Trump has any reasonable chance of taking Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes. While I agree that the lawsuit is a strategic error that plays right into the rigged election meme that’s already in circulation,

    The real contests in Minnesota are in the Congressional races and the state legislature. I the DFL can remove Trump from the ballot a significant percentage of Trump voters are likely to stay home, even though they can easily write in his name on their ballots. It won’t take many votes to make a decisive difference in some districts.

    This is an even more cynical effort than you thought.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 09/12/2016 - 05:22 pm.

      Great point James!!

      Hadn’t thought of that

    • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 09/12/2016 - 05:57 pm.

      Trump Voters will stay home???

      Do you really think Trump voters will stay home if his name is not on the ballot???? There will be a revolt if this happens. Trump voters will turn out in droves to shut down the election.

      The Supreme Court is not stupid enough to go down this path. If the DFL wins this case it will create a bru-ha-ha like you’ve never seen before.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/13/2016 - 12:14 pm.

        “Turn Out in Droves to Shut Down the Election”

        In other words, they would refuse to accept a decision by the court.

        How would they have “shut down the election?” Physical intimidation of voters? Violence? Is this where the Second Amendment solution comes in? I suppose we can be grateful that we won’t have to find out.

        On a related subject, let’s hear your thought s on the “basket of deplorables” imagery

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/13/2016 - 12:17 pm.

        Perhaps a Write-In Campaign?

        Perhaps not launched by the Republican Party of Minnesota, however.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/12/2016 - 09:26 pm.

      Brass Tacks

      Now we’re getting down to brass tacks, and I’m surprised this wasn’t brought up in the article itself. My first thought when I say the headline was “Mills”. This could well have tipped the race in the 8th district.

  15. Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/12/2016 - 04:52 pm.

    “It’s too late to investigate”?

    They dismissed the lawsuit because “It’s too late to investigate”? That seems like a rather odd legal precedent.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/13/2016 - 09:01 am.

      It’s not a legal precedent

      It’s a punt, unfortunately. A desired result, not a legal decision. So, we don’t know what would happen the next time around. Best advice, don’t screw up your paperwork.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/13/2016 - 09:39 am.

        “A desired result, not a legal decision.”

        A court gave it so it’s a legal decision.

        “So, we don’t know what would happen the next time around. Best advice, don’t screw up your paperwork.”

        Actually the next time around, the court will be just as predictable as they were this time. The court, quite rightly, will come down on the side of the right to vote. And let’s not be in any doubt about the fact that it is the DFL here and Democrats throughout the country who benefit from the judicial willingness to stand by voter rights. Yesterday’s short term defeat was a long term victory for Democrats.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/13/2016 - 06:39 am.

    The question

    So the interesting question raised remains, “why did they do it?”. The case was a sure loser which they did lose, so there was no immediate tactical advantage to be gained from it.. They must have known that. Had the DFL won, they would have reinforced a prime Trump talking point, “Democrats are rigging the election”, they could have used here and throughout the nation. The explanation offered by the column, “They really had no choice” is the after the fact rationalization generally offered by people who did make the choice, but made the wrong one. They certain did have a choice we just don’t know why they made the wrong one.

  17. Submitted by bea sinna on 09/13/2016 - 08:40 am.

    the pot and the kettle

    The DFL always follows the law?

  18. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/13/2016 - 10:26 am.

    The DFL always follows the law?

    I always assume our interns are just as capable as messing up as their interns. The mistake the Republicans made is one Democrats are also perfectly capable of making, so my analysis of the case does contain an element of, “there but for the grace of the election gods, go I.”

    But in a larger sense, this focus on technicalities and trivialities by party officials, is just one example of why so many in the broader electorate are so disenchanted with and so alienated by parties as a whole. The issues in this election are huge and they are substantive, and that’s where our focus as a party should be.

  19. Submitted by Carolyn Jones on 09/15/2016 - 06:31 am.

    This piece didn’t provide any insight into why they filed the lawsuit. The real reason was to try and surprises the vote in down ballots, particularly in state house races and the 8th congressional race where Trump could help.
    It will be amazing if trump gets above 30% in MN given the reception from the Republican Party here and the negativity in the press. Minnesotans, please listen to a full speech or go to his website and judge for yourself. I will never give money to the Republican Party again.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/15/2016 - 08:50 am.

      Down Ballot

      It will be interesting to learn what does become of down ballot contests. One would think the DFL should take the pot, so to speak, this year. The last time the MN Republican Party was this dysfunctional was when forces caused it to become the Independent Republican (IR) Party of Minnesota: Nov. 1975–Sept. 1995.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/17/2016 - 09:44 am.

    Stupid is never a good idea

    I’m not sure I’d take any advice from a guy who took partisanship to a whole new level in MN in the first place and promoted the anti-intellectual policies that have dominated republican policy for decades.

    I think what the democrats have shown us yet again, is that republican policies and strategies are a bad idea no matter who deploys them. Given a choice between being stupid and being smart, it’s never a good idea to pick stupid. One reason we’re 20 years behind where we should be in so many areas is that we keep trying stupid… as if it just might work.

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