Wrong party name lands ballot in court

From Al Edenloff, editor of the Alexandria Echo Press:

An unexpected twist in the wide-open race for House District 11B challenged a candidate’s name being on the ballot and ended up in the Minnesota Supreme Court this week.

The whole thing started after Bert Pexsa of Alexandria made an error while filing his affidavit for candidacy on June 1. At that time, he unintentionally wrote his party affiliation as “Independent Party” rather than “Independence Party.”

The error was discovered on June 10 and after Douglas County Attorney Chris Karpan consulted with County Auditor Tom Reddick and the secretary of state, the county allowed Pexsa to amend his affidavit of candidacy.

Pexsa was later endorsed by the Independence Party on July 11. He is running against Republican Mary Franson and DFLer Amy Hunter. Long-time DFL incumbent Marry Ellen Otremba stepped down from the seat.

Last week, a Todd County resident who lives in District 11B filed a lawsuit against Reddick, asking the court to order Reddick to strike Pexsa’s name from the Nov. 2 ballot because of the Independence/independent discrepancy.

Under Minnesota law, the Minnesota Supreme Court has the original jurisdiction over cases like this, which, according to Karpan, “means you skip the district court and the court of appeals and go directly to the highest court in the state.”

Because of a time crunch – the county needs to get its ballots to the printer this week – the court moved with “uncanny” speed, Karpan noted.

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea ordered the person filing the lawsuit to have a memorandum filed with the court by Sept. 7 and ordered the county to have its response memorandum filed two days later.

“The law in this area is complex and this was no small task but we got it done,” Karpan said.

The court scheduled oral arguments to be presented in St. Paul this past Monday.

At the Supreme Court, each party gets a half hour to argue their case under intense questioning from the seven justices.

“Chief Justice Gildea, in particular, was very vocal and demanded to know why the petitioner hadn’t filed this suit back in June instead of the beginning of September,” said Karpan. “Justice Alan Page and Justice Paul Anderson both wanted to know what rule of law I would suggest they adopt that would allow the auditor to make such minor changes as this one. It is an exhausting process.”

That same day, the court made its ruling and threw out the lawsuit.

The ballot will remain as it is – with the three major candidates for District 11B on it.

Pexsa, who was not sued directly, and the Independence Party believe Republicans initiated the lawsuit because they wanted to remove opposition.

The suit was filed by Harlan Clark, the husband of Marlene Clark, who ran as a Republican for the District 11B seat in 2004.

Pexsa, who attended the hearing, said that one of the justices asked if the lawsuit was an attempt to remove a name on the ballot so it would favor a political party. The question went unanswered.

Kari Johnson, a spokesperson for the Independence Party, stated on the party’s website that the “action represents the most cynical form of politics.”

Pexsa said he’s happy his name will remain on the ballot.

“I’m just thinking this will rest in peace,” he said, adding that Douglas County has better things to do with its money than defending such lawsuits.

The speed of the whole process surprised Karpan.

“Supreme Court orders are generally handed down six to eight months after argument,” he said. “To hear that the court had ruled less than an hour after we left the courtroom was surprising to say the least.”

Karpan added that the court was aware of the tight timeline the county is under to get the ballots ready for absentee voting by Friday.

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