A Minnesota law that limited to three the number of voters any one person can help cast a ballot in person will remain unenforceable this election, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
In an expedited four-page ruling last week, Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea affirmed a July order by Ramsey County District Judge Thomas Gilligan that sided with a legal challenge filed earlier this year by two Democratic campaign committees.
However, Gildea also reversed Gilligan’s decision invalidating a separate state cap on how many absentee ballots one person can help deliver.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee both sued to eliminate Minnesota’s voter assistance limits, calling them unconstitutional. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Steve Simon had already entered into a consent decree — months before the Aug. 11 primary — in a separate but related lawsuit in which he agreed to order county attorneys and election administrators not to enforce the in-person voter help limit.
In July, Gilligan approved the Democratic committees’ motion for a temporary injunction that would halt enforcement of both limits. He said that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that the limits violated the federal Voting Rights Act and Minnesota Constitution, in addition to state and federal free speech and association rights.
The Republican Party of Minnesota and Republican National Committee appealed the case and successfully petitioned the state Supreme Court for an “accelerated review” of the case. Oral arguments were held remotely on Sept. 3.
Attorney Benjamin Ellison argued for the Republican groups that the Democratic campaign arms were seeking to “claim unfettered constitutional rights to mark and to collect voters’ ballots” and invalidate two longstanding state laws protecting election integrity “by limiting ballot marking and ballot harvesting by third parties.”
Ellison also argued that the plaintiffs failed to identify any voters who have been unable to vote in the past or who would be barred from participating in the November election because of either rule.
In May, Simon and Attorney General Keith Ellison reached a consent agreement to resolve a lawsuit filed by Cy Thao, a former St. Paul state representative. Both sides agreed that the federal Voting Rights Act permits voters to ask anyone of their choosing for help with voting and that the federal law preempts any state law imposing further restrictions.
Simon, a former state representative, sponsored a bill to end such restrictions when he was in the Legislature, but it was not taken up.
Minnesotans are still limited to helping deliver three absentee ballots each, according to Gildea’s Sept. 4 ruling. The chief justice added that a more extensive judicial opinion will follow. Justice Paul Thissen, who is being challenged on the Nov. 3 ballot by perennial candidate Michelle MacDonald, took no part in deciding the case.
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